Colorado reacts to 'Cole Memo' rescission


DENVER — The Department of Justice’s announcement on Thursday of its plan to rescind the “Cole Memo” drew similar reactions across party lines from within Colorado, one of the states affected by the Cole Memo — Colorado will uphold the will of its citizens who voted to legalize marijuana.

The Cole Memo was a document originally drafted by former US Attorney General James M. Cole in 2013. Cole issued a memorandum to all US attorneys that was published through the Department of Justice on August 29, 2013. The memo indicated that prosecutors and law enforcement in states where cannabis was legal should focus on preventing such actions as underage use, drugged driving and growing/use on public lands.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Thursday that the Department of Justice rescinded the “Cole Memo” and other internal enforcement guidelines from the Obama Administration that de-prioritized enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition against individuals and businesses complying with state laws regarding recreational marijuana.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper responded by saying, “Thirty states comprising more than two thirds of the American people have legalized marijuana in some form. The Cole memo got it right and was foundational in guiding states’ efforts to regulate the production and distribution of marijuana.

“Colorado has created a comprehensive regulatory system committed to supporting the will of our voters. We constantly evaluate and seek to strengthen our approach to regulation and enforcement. Our focus will continue to be the public health and public safety of our citizens. We are expanding efforts to eliminate the black market and keep marijuana out of the hands of minors and criminals.

“Today’s decision does not alter the strength of our resolve in those areas, nor does it change my constitutional responsibilities.”

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman stated, “As Attorney General it is my responsibility to defend our state laws—and I will continue to do so. There is still a lot we don’t know about what enforcement priorities the Justice Department will implement. I expect, however, that the federal government will continue to focus their enforcement efforts and resources on combatting the gray and black markets and diversion, and not target marijuana businesses who abide by our state’s laws.

“The State of Colorado has worked diligently to implement the will of our citizens and has built a comprehensive regulatory and enforcement system that prioritizes public safety and public health. There is still work to be done, but as a state we have focused on strengthening regulation of recreational marijuana and enforcement of state laws. I believe that the priorities laid out in the Cole Memo, including preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing criminal enterprises and cartels from using our state’s laws as a cover or pretext for illegal activity, and focusing on public health and prevention, are still critically important.

“In the past, my office has worked well with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Colorado as enforcement priorities have been set, and I expect that partnership and our open communication to continue.”

U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer of the District of Colorado said, “Today the Attorney General rescinded the Cole Memo on marijuana prosecutions, and directed that federal marijuana prosecution decisions be governed by the same principles that have long governed all of our prosecution decisions.  The United States Attorney’s Office in Colorado has already been guided by these principles in marijuana prosecutions -- focusing in particular on identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state.  We will, consistent with the Attorney General’s latest guidance, continue to take this approach in all of our work with our law enforcement partners throughout Colorado.”

U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton (CO-03) made the following statement:

“The announcement by the Department of Justice is a drastic departure from the Attorney General’s previous commitment to Senator Cory Gardner during the confirmation process that he would uphold the Obama Administration’s treatment of marijuana enforcement and President Trump’s comments that he would leave it to the states. Furthermore it creates even greater confusion and uncertainty by leaving enforcement decisions up to federal prosecutors. The Department of Justice should provide guidance on enforcement of marijuana for states that have voted to legalize it. The people of Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in the state, and I am committed to defending the will of Coloradans.”

U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) responded, “Reports that the Justice Department will rescind their current policy on legal marijuana enforcement are extremely alarming. Before I voted to confirm Attorney General Sessions, he assured me that marijuana would not be a priority for this Administration. Today’s action directly contradicts what I was told, and I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation. In 2016, President Trump said marijuana legalization should be left up to the states and I agree.”

National Cannabis Industry Association Executive Director Aaron Smith issued the following statement:

“This news from the Department of Justice is disturbing, especially in light of the fact that 73 percent of voters oppose federal interference with state cannabis laws. But, the rescinding of this memo does not necessarily mean that any major change in enforcement policy is on the horizon. This has been, and still will be, a matter of prosecutorial discretion. We therefore hope that Department of Justice officials, including U.S. Attorneys, will continue to uphold President Trump’s campaign promise to not interfere with state cannabis programs, which have been overwhelmingly successful in undercutting the criminal market."

“In addition to safely regulating the production and sale of cannabis, state-based cannabis programs have created tens of thousands of jobs and generated more than a billion dollars in state and local tax revenue to date. Any significant change in federal enforcement policy will result in higher unemployment and will take funds away from education and other beneficial programs. Those revenues will instead go back to drug cartels and other criminal actors.”

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