Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded the legal marijuana policy put in place by the Obama Administration. The Obama-era guidelines, which include The Cole Memorandum and two other documents, established a policy of limited Federal interference in individual state laws regarding use of cannabis. Sessions’ move, in effect, reverses this policy, placing the enforcement of marijuana laws back at Federal discretion.
Currently, the use of medical cannabis, as recommended by a physician, is legal in 29 states. In 17 additional states, more restricted use of cannabis products with limited THC content is legal or decriminalized. Eight states have legalized non-medical use of cannabis. Sessions’ reversal of the Obama Administration’s policy no longer protects states from enforcement of Federal cannabis law.
This development is not simply about whether our representatives support or oppose the legalization of cannabis, however. Many see it as being about preserving states’ rights.
Looking backward, states’ rights were important to the likes of Jeff Sessions when it came to, for example, repealing portions of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). Then, Sessions and other Conservatives asserted that states, not the Federal government, should determine whether certain health care costs, known as Essential Health Benefits, should be covered.
Perhaps surprisingly, many Republicans are opposed to Sessions’ actions regarding Federal interference in state marijuana laws. Though Donald Trump supports Sessions’ move, stating that Federal Law on cannabis comes before states’ rights, several GOP leaders, such as Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), say that this stance “contradicts what Trump and the Conservatives stand for.”
Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, who originally opposed legalization of recreational marijuana in his home state, has threatened to block all Justice Department nominees in response, saying that he is “incensed” at the Federal usurpation of states’ rights.
Democratic Senator Cory Booker, of New Jersey, states, “Before Sessions was confirmed, he pledged that this was not what he would do…It is a failure of this administration, who said, as our President did during his campaign, that he would honor what states are doing; it’s a betrayal (by) our Attorney General, who gave a commitment to at least one Republican member of this body; but most significantly, it will hurt America. It is ignoring a growing bipartisan consensus that the war on drugs has failed.”
We should note that, though Jeff Sessions has once again placed enforcement of Federal cannabis laws at the discretion of U.S. attorneys, he has not allocated additional funds or resources for that purpose. Many U.S. attorneys have already stated that they will not prosecute these cases.
GOP Senator Rips Sessions over Marijuana Policy | CNN [2018-01-04]
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Marijuana Policy Change | C-SPAN [2018-01-04]