With everything else that’s been going on, it was easy for this to go under the radar but, about a week ago, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressing concern about Trump administration statements that the federal government would start coming down on states that have legalized recreational marijuana use. They formally asked that Trump take the same stand-down federal approach favored by former President Obama.
Eight states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for non-medicinal use.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has said in recent press briefings that the Department of Justice (DOJ) may start enforcing federal marijuana laws, in a reversal of the Obama administration’s hands-off policy. Spicer has said on numerous occasions that states should expect “greater enforcement” of those federal laws in the near future.
This group of senators has formally objected to that.
“It is essential that states that have implemented any type of practical, effective marijuana policy receive immediate assurance from the DOJ that it will respect the ability of states to enforce thoughtful, sensible drug policies in ways that do not threaten the public’s health and safety,” stated the senators in their communication to Sessions. “This ensures that state infrastructure, including tax revenue, small businesses, and jobs, can be protected; DOJ resources can be used most effectively; and most importantly, that marijuana can be properly regulated to improve public health and safety.”
“These voter-approved laws have been evaluated by Governors and state Attorneys General, rigorously debated by state legislatures and the communities they serve, and implemented through thoughtful processes to ensure the proper regulated production and sale of marijuana.”
The letter also cites the “Cole Memorandum,” which spelled out Obama’s posture toward state-approved recreational marijuana use and the extent to which the federal government would not make an issue of those state laws:
“In 2013, the DOJ issued a memorandum outlining federal marijuana enforcement priorities in light of state marijuana laws (the “Cole Memorandum”). The Cole Memorandum explains that where states have ‘strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale, and production of marijuana, . . . enforcement of state law by state and local law enforcement and regulatory bodies should remain the primary means of addressing marijuana-related activity.’
“This guidance has provided clarity to states and Americans on the interaction of state and federal laws regarding marijuana use and has allowed the DOJ to focus its law enforcement resources on the greatest threats to public safety and criminal justice, while allowing states to implement marijuana laws as they deem appropriate.”
The senators point out that Trump himself said during the presidential campaign that the matter should be left to the states, which goes contrary to another Spicer assertion that Trump was referring to medical marijuana and that there is “… a big difference between that and recreational marijuana.”
“While we appreciate the Administration’s apparent recognition that state-implemented medical marijuana laws are regulated effectively, we believe the same is true of states that regulate recreational marijuana use, and those that have decriminalized use,” said the letter from nine senators, including Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
“We respectfully request that you uphold the DOJ’s existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational marijuana use and ask that the Cole Memorandum remain in place.”
The letter is signed by the following senators: Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ed Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HA), Catherine Cortez Mast (D-NV), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).
You can see the complete letter here.
Kudos to these Senators for taking this on — let’s see where Trump and the Republicans really come down on “states’ rights” when it comes to an issue not involving women’s health choices.