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Marijuana Crackdown? Not Yet: What Jeff Sessions’s New Memo Means For Legal Pot

Jeff Sessions Cannabis Now
Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now


Marijuana Crackdown? Not Yet: What Jeff Sessions’s New Memo Means For Legal Pot

Don’t panic — and please don’t allow confusion and misinformation to fool you into doing Jeff Sessions’s work for him.

The purpose of a chaos agent is to cause trouble. Through misinformation and misdirection, the chaos agent sows confusion and creates dissension. Then, under the cover of the ensuing hubbub, greater and more sinister malfeasance arrives and thrives before the rest of us can grasp exactly what happened.

For decades, government institutions like the FBI have relied on provocateurs to erode movements they deem threatening from within — though generally speaking, official, top-level institutional actors, like the Attorney General of the United States, aren’t chaos agents themselves and delegate this dirty work to henchmen on hand for the purpose.

But we live in a world where U.S. senators openly accuse President Trump of touting seemingly incoherent policies as part of a greater strategy aimed at undermining “normal” institutions. The idea that the president himself is a chaos agent is apparently serious enough to gain traction among intellectuals.

This is all useful to remember when deciphering Thursday’s news that AG Jeff Sessions is revoking Obama-era memorandums that have given marijuana legalization and the burgeoning cannabis industry a semblance of official cover — but, most importantly, gave otherwise leery investors and local governments the necessary encouragement to allow legal cannabis to grow.

As the junior senator from California’s aggrieved tweet above demonstrates, there’s some significant confusion as to what Sessions’s move does and what it could do. Though the move does come a few days after the first sales of recreational marijuana in California, there’s no massive crackdown on recreational stores coming, nor is there any roundup of users.

At least, not yet. And until there is, any panic, confusion, or misinformation that there is — like Kamala Harris’s tweet — helps Sessions and hurts the cannabis industry.

On Thursday morning, Sessions did as several anonymous sources told the Associated Press he would do: He rescinded the 2013 Cole Memo.

The memo is a nonbinding policy document that purported to give guidance to federal prosecutors working in districts where recreational or medical marijuana is legal.

Everything marijuana related, from a cancer patient with a joint in her pocket to $1.5 billion dollars in annual sales, violates the Controlled Substances Act, so what was a law-and-order-loving U.S. attorney to do? According to then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole, the suggestion was: Prosecute if the cannabis-related activity violated state law, put cannabis in the hands of children, or was tied to violent crime, firearms, or other criminal activity.

Remember, the Cole Memo was never an official policy. It also wasn’t the first Obama-era memo concerning state-legal marijuana. It wasn’t even the first “Cole Memo” — and when you read it all the way through, and discovered the parts where it declared marijuana dangerous and the marijuana industry illegal, it wasn’t even all that great.

Most importantly, it wasn’t (and isn’t) binding. There wasn’t and there isn’t anything stopping a U.S. attorney from prosecuting recreational cannabis… aside from the salient and still-present fact that the federal government lacks the resources to wage a countrywide crackdown on cannabis.

“This doesn’t radically change what we were and are trying to do,” U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland), one of the members of Congress’s “Cannabis Caucus,” told reporters during a conference call on Thursday.

Thanks to a budget rider still in effect, Sessions’s Justice Department still has no funding to prosecute medical marijuana that obeys state law. As drug-policy expert Mark Kleiman has pointed out, Sessions doesn’t have enough DEA agents worldwide to crack down on cannabis — even if he didn’t already have an opiate crisis killing 60,000 Americans a year to deal with.

Thus far, Sessions’ announcement does not mean a crackdown or even a reduction is coming, but it has created enough uncertainty to hurt markets. It’s also come a day after a book excerpt portrayed the Trump Administration as a quick-moving, McDonalds-fueled disaster, and preceded an announcement that Trump will allow greater offshore oil drilling than ever before.

For now, Sessions’s marijuana move is more distraction than disaster. Until it isn’t, don’t play into his hands.

TELL US, are you afraid of Jeff Sessions?

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