Bipartisan congressional delegation from Colorado demands Sessions reinstate Cole Memo

Posted at 4:06 PM, Jan 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-09 21:21:09-05

DENVER – A bipartisan group of members of Congress from Colorado sent a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding the Justice Department reinstate the Cole Memo and allow Colorado to continue to operate its legal marijuana program without interference.

The letter was signed by Reps. Jared Polis (D), Mike Coffman (R), Diana DeGette (D) and Ed Perlmutter (D).

“We strongly urge the Department to reinstate the Cole Memo in order to ensure the Department is acting to uphold the will of Colorado voters and the rights of the states to regulate intrastate commerce,” the House members wrote.

They tell Sessions in the letter about how Colorado voters legalized medical, then recreational, marijuana in two separate votes, saying state citizens “have spoken on the issue.”

“We believe we are obliged to heed their decision,” the representatives wrote. “Further, all the laws and regulations put in place governing the use of marijuana in our state clearly restrict it to a matter internal to the state of Colorado.”

Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo last Thursday, which was a 2013 Justice Department from then-deputy attorney general James Cole. It directed law enforcement officials not to interfere with marijuana programs like Colorado’s except for when product was leaving states where it was legal or getting into the hands of children.

In the new memo, Sessions wrote that the new policy will allow U.S. attorneys across the country decide how to dedicate their resources toward marijuana law enforcement in their regions.

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.

At the time of the announcement, all four members of Congress who signed on to Tuesday’s letter derided the decision by Sessions. Coffman said the attorney general needed to read the Constitution again, while Polis sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to override his “defiant” attorney general’s latest order.

The sentiment that Sessions was undoing the will of the president carried through in Tuesday’s letter.

“The new guidance appears to stand in opposition to President Trump’s publically stated position…The President has previously identified marijuana use within a state as an issue for a state to decide, not the federal government,” the members of Congress wrote.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., will meet with Sessions Wednesday morning to further discuss his concerns with Sessions’ decision. He has said that he will hold up at least five people awaiting nominations by the Justice Department until Sessions explains why he went against what he told Gardner prior to his confirmation vote.

“The attorney general told me that this wouldn’t be on their agenda, that they wouldn’t have the bandwidth to address marijuana, that the president didn’t have it on his agenda,” Gardner told Denver7 Tuesday. “So what the attorney general did is at odds with what the president has said. And the question I’ve asked publicly, the question I will be asking to the attorney general is, ‘Why do you, Jeff Sessions, believe that President Trump is wrong?’”

Polis continues to also push two bills, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act and the McClintock/Polis Amendment, that would achieve some safeguards for states with legal marijuana programs. The first would lift the federal prohibition on marijuana, while the latter would prohibit the Justice Department from using any of its resources to prosecute those operating legally under state programs.

“While it is far from a done deal, I am hopeful that we can attach language to the government funding bill to protect legalized recreational and medical marijuana,” Polis said Tuesday.