Earlier this week, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he has rescinded the federal policy that directed prosecutors and law enforcement to not prioritize interference with states that legalized marijuana. The Cole Memo was originally enacted during the Obama administration by former United States Attorney General James M. Cole in 2013.
The announcement by Session faced quick and harsh backlash from lawmakers and advocates and comes just days after the sale of recreational marijuana became legal in the State of California.
The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment prohibits the Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana programs, so Sessions’ memo may have no effect in those 29 states until January 19 when the extension ends. But, that doesn’t mean some medical marijuana facilities aren’t facing consequences of the repeal.
Two of Rhode Island’s three medical marijuana dispensaries have shut off debit-card processing, as both dispensaries use a payment-processing company that works with a bank in Massachusetts. Why the worry? Federal Prosecutor U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew E. Lelling, and strong anti-marijuana enforcer, recently called marijuana a “dangerous drug,” and sent a statement regarding his intention to prosecute when possible.
“I understand that there are people and groups looking for additional guidance from this office about its approach to enforcing federal laws criminalizing marijuana cultivation and trafficking. I cannot, however, provide assurances that certain categories of participants in the state-level marijuana trade will be immune from federal prosecution,” Lelling said in a written statement on Monday.
The legal marijuana market is set to rise from $6.7 billion in 2016 to $24.5 billion by 2025. Federal law enforcement of recreational marijuana would directly cut into the $1.4 billion in tax revenue where recreational marijuana is legal.
Since 2012 the States of Colorado and Washington have used tax dollars collected through recreational marijuana sales to fund Medicade, provide college scholarships, fund mental health clinics, and contributes to both state’s infrastructure. Federal prosecution would mean less money for all of these programs and more.
But, fewer tax dollars isn’t the only pressing issue with federal prosecution. Marijuana Business Daily calculated that the nation’s cannabis industry has already generated 165,000 to 230,000 full- and part-time jobs. That is more jobs than manufacturing, utilities, and government industries. Federal crackdowns would jeopardize the livelihoods of all those working in the industry.
Though it may appear your votes are going unnoticed, it looks as though many state leaders on both sides of the aisle are looking to keep this a state’s issue. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson released this statement on Twitter just after the announcement was made.
“I am disappointed and troubled that by reports that AG Sessions plans to abandon the current federal policy on marijuana – a policy that respects states’ right and focuses federal enforcement on key, shared areas of concern. Over the past year, Sessions has demonstrated a stunning lack of knowledge about our state’s marijuana laws. If reports are accurate, Sessions is changing policy after refusing multiple requests for a meeting from Governor Jay Inslee and myself. I pledge to vigorously defend the will of the voters in Washington State.”
Other state officials that have spoken out against Sessions’ decision include Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
How will the decision to repeal affect you? Contact MedicalMarijuana.com and let us know!