DENVER – Two members of Congress from Colorado are calling for the Justice Department’s new marijuana enforcement policy to be rescinded and for a more-concrete policy to be put in place.
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., sent a letter to President Donald Trump Thursday, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., sent his letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday in the wake of Sessions’ immediate rescinding of the 2013 Cole Memo, which allowed states where marijuana is legal to avoid most low-level law enforcement pertaining to cannabis.
Polis wrote to Trump that his “defiant” and “ineffective” attorney general had made a “thoughtless decision” that undermined Trump and his “rightful position on the legalization of marijuana.”
“His decision will only serve to hurt our country and further damage your credibility as someone who regularly proclaims to care about businesses and people. As the President of the United States, you can stop the Attorney General from undermining your leadership and hurting your popularity,” Polis wrote. “I urge you to maintain your position that the vast majority of Americans share: supporting states' liberties and allowing businesses to continue to grow.”
In the letter, Polis also reminded Trump that he said at least three times as a candidate that marijuana legalization—both recreational and medical—was a states’ rights issue, and played at the president’s personality and relationship with Sessions.
“If you do not reverse this action, people will think that your cabinet is acting without your approval,” Polis wrote. “Mr. Sessions has been trying to interfere with states’ rights on marijuana for years and this action is in line with his own agenda, not your stated agenda.”
He further said that the new Justice Department guidance from Sessions would hurt the economy Trump is working to continue to build, as well as veterans and people addicted to opioids, who have sought medical marijuana as an alternative treatment for their conditions.
“With the states and federal government seeking ways to combat the growing opioid crisis, there is evidence that medical marijuana could provide part of a solution, and if you stop Sessions, it will help secure your place in history fighting opioid abuse,” Polis wrote.
Bennet’s letter to Sessions said that since 29 states now have some form of legalized marijuana, the Justice Department needed to put together a policy that extends new guidance as legal marijuana programs continue to grow.
“I understand that this is now and has always been an issue of prosecutorial discretion but with the majority of the country living in a state with some form of legalized marijuana, we need a coherent strategy from the Department of Justice as to how this discretion will be administered,” Bennet wrote. “The failure to do so will invite chaos, which will do more to harm public safety than to restrict legal marijuana.”
Bennet also wrote to Sessions about his concerns on the effects the rescinding of the Cole Memo could have on the banking industry, which has just recently started working with marijuana businesses working to get out of a cash-only economy. He said that the new guidance might achieve the “exact opposite” of its intended effect for these businesses.
Bennet also pointed to Trump’s prior statements about leaving marijuana enforcement up to states and wrote that the Justice Department’s limited resources should go toward fighting the opioid epidemic.
Also Friday, The Washington Post reported that Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who tore into Sessions on the Senate floor Thursday morning after the Justice Department’s announcement, had spoken with Sessions since his speech.
In the speech and in statements posted online, Gardner said he was placing holds on all Justice Department nominees because Sessions broke promises he made to the senator in a pre-confirmation meeting, when Sessions said that Colorado’s marijuana programs were safe.
But The Post reported that Gardner said the discussions hadn’t progressed: “Let’s just say, there was no reconciliation of difference….We are going to have a conversation next week,” Gardner told The Post.
U.S. Attorney of the District of Colorado Bob Troyer responded to the new guidance by saying his office already focused on the black market and stopping marijuana from getting to children in Colorado.
“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,” Troyer said in a statement Thursday.
And Gov. John Hickenlooper said at a Thursday afternoon news conference that he was optimistic that few changes would be coming in Colorado.
“I think this is going to be a case where the bark is worse than the bite. Maybe there will be one or two dispensaries that are made an example of. I think it’s a waste of money. But that might happen,” Hickenlooper said.