Gardner to meet with Sessions Wednesday over new marijuana guidance; Senate pot talks ongoing

Gardner: "Actions need to line up with rhetoric"
Posted at 5:07 PM, Jan 09, 2018

DENVER – Sen. Cory Gardner will meet Wednesday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an effort to get him to reinstate the Justice Department memo protecting states where marijuana is legal from federal law enforcement.

Gardner 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.

“What I’m looking for is for the attorney general to live up to his commitment to me prior to his confirmation, which was not a reversal, which was him saying he would not reverse directions as it relates to states that have legalized marijuana,” Gardner told Denver7 in an interview Tuesday.

Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo last Thursday, which was a 2013 Justice Department from then-deputy attorney general James Cole.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.

But Gardner was incensed at the decision by Sessions, saying that it was “a complete reversal of what many of us on the Hill were told before the confirmation, what we had continued to believe for the last year, and without any notification, conversation, or dialogue with Congress.”

According to Gardner, Sessions had promised him ahead of Gardner’s confirmation vote in favor of Sessions for attorney general that marijuana would be a states’ rights issue under the new administration.

Gardner told Denver7 Tuesday he hoped Wednesday’s meeting “will put us back into an agreement of where then-Sen. Sessions said he would be as attorney general,” and also pointed out that as a candidate, Trump said he wouldn’t interfere with states’ marijuana programs.

“What the attorney general did is at odds with what the president has said,” Gardner told Denver7 Tuesday. “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?’”

Gardner said he had met with a congressional delegation from Colorado earlier Tuesday to discuss the next steps in ensuring Colorado’s pot programs are protected. Four members of that delegation – Reps. Jared Polis, Ed Perlmutter, Diana DeGette and Mike Coffman – sent a letter to Sessions Tuesday demanding he reinstate the Cole Memo.

Gardner and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., also met Tuesday with a bipartisan group of about a dozen senators to discuss what could be done in Congress in regards to protecting states’ marijuana programs.

Bennet sent a letter to Sessions last week saying his decision “completely disregards the steps the state of Colorado has taken to regulate legal marijuana dispensaries and retail stores,” and also offered to meet with Sessions.

Gardner said Tuesday that congressional fixes were part of the discussions in the meeting with the senators.

“We’ve talked about how to address this from an appropriations standpoint. We’ve talked about how to expand on existing appropriations language. And we talked about what we need to do for a longer-term solution to protect states’ rights,” Gardner told Denver7. “I think at the end of the day, that’s exactly what I’m interested in, is how do we protect states’ rights and abide by interstate commerce clause in the 10th Amendment.”

And Gardner was firm on his stance to hold up Justice Department nominees until Sessions takes a step back.

“Until I believe, and I feel, the attorney general lives up to the agreement he made to me prior to his confirmation, that I’ll have a hold on those nominees,” Gardner said. “Now, if nominees have overwhelming support it will be difficult to stop them. But I think we have a lot of people who agree that the attorney general, his actions need to line up with his rhetoric.”