On Friday, the American public may have truly seen cannabis prohibition enter its twilight hours.
One of the loudest pro-cannabis voices in the Republican Party, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, announced that he made a deal with the White House that would bring final closure to the continuing conflicts between state and federal marijuana law now present in most of the nation.
Gardner has been blocking all Department of Justice nominees since January, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an order to federal prosecutors around the country dismissing the Cole Memo. The purpose of the Cole Memo had been to focus all DOJ resources on actual criminals and not people and companies in full compliance with state cannabis law. The DOJ called the rebuffing of the Obama administration policy a return to the rule of law.
When Sessions issued his statement against the Cole Memo in January, Gardner immediately announced that he would block all DOJ nominees until he received a commitment that Colorado’s right to regulate and dispense cannabis to adults over the age of 21 would not be stomped on by the longtime drug war hawk now running the DOJ.
However, following positive discussions with President Donald Trump, Gardner announced this week that he is lifting some of his holds on DOJ nominees.
He is not lifting them all however — that’ll come, he says, when the federal government puts tangible guidelines in his hands to really get the ball moving.
Gardner praised the administration in a Friday statement announcing the deal with Trump.
“Since the campaign, President Trump has consistently supported states’ rights to decide for themselves how best to approach marijuana,” said Gardner. “Late Wednesday, I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry. Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all.”
Gardner went on to note he and his colleagues in Congress are working diligently on a bipartisan legislative solution that can “pass Congress and head to the President’s desk to deliver on his campaign position.”
The nation’s leading cannabis organizations now can see a major part of their endgame in sight, despite the work left to be done at the state level and at the federal level, pending whatever Congress comes up with on their own.
“Sen. Gardner has done a great service for his constituents by standing up for federalism regarding marijuana policy,” said Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Everyone who knew about President Trump’s statements on this issue during the campaign were hoping he would uphold those values and support states’ abilities to enact laws regulating marijuana for medical or adult use while in office. This news should make states more comfortable implementing their legalization programs. It should also serve as a rallying cry for lawmakers to pass comprehensive legislation that leaves marijuana policy to the states permanently.”
MPP also noted the spending restrictions that prevent federal interference in state medical marijuana programs were renewed by Congress in March. However, there are no such protections for states that have regulated marijuana for adult use. MPP is under the impression Trump’s reported statements suggest that the same policy will apply to both medical and adult-use providers, but the Dept. of Justice could still legally pursue cases against state-legal adult use operations if federal prosecutors choose to do so.
“With the support of the President, the American public and mounting evidence that regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol is much preferable to prohibition, there is no reason for Congress to delay any longer,” continued Murphy. “There are several pieces of marijuana policy legislation being considered right now, and every one of them should get hearings immediately.”
The nation’s oldest marijuana reform organization, NORML, was also excited about the possibilities to come.
“We applaud this commitment from President Trump, who promised during his campaign to take a federalist approach with regard to marijuana policy,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri. “That campaign promise was not reflected by Trump’s appointment of longtime marijuana prohibitionist Jeff Sessions to the position of Attorney General or any of the actions that Sessions has taken since becoming the nation’s top law enforcement officer.”
Altieri put pressure on Congress to take the next steps in all this as soon as possible.
“With the President now reiterating this commitment, it is time for Congress to do its part and swiftly move forward bipartisan legislation that explicitly provides states with the authority and autonomy to set their own marijuana policies absent the fear of federal incursion. Doing so would not only follow through one of Trump’s campaign promises, but it would codify the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans,” said Altieri.
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