Congress Counters Jeff Sessions in Move to Protect State’s Rights on Cannabis

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The entire cannabis community went on high alert when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his intention to begin prosecuting those in compliance with state cannabis legalization laws. Multiple states already have functional and profitable licensing and regulation programs in place.

Since Colorado legalized adult use of cannabis, more states have started to realize the potential tax windfall associated with these programs. Most recently, California opened its massive economy up to the sale of legalized cannabis. Of course, these state laws directly contradict federal law, which continues to list cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic with no known medical uses.

During the Obama administration, a policy announced in what has become known as the Cole Memo allowed states to follow the direction of their own voters when it came to cannabis. Effectively, the Cole Memo stated that the federal government would not seek to enforce federal law in states with medical and recreational cannabis laws. Instead, they would focus on prosecuting those who violated state’s laws or those involved in cannabis offenses in states without medical or recreational cannabis laws.

Those living in states with established legalization measures believed that they could work in the legal cannabis industry without fear of prosecution. This lead to massive investment in cannabis businesses over the course of several years. When Trump came into office and named Jeff Sessions as attorney general, however, many people began to brace for the worst-case scenario.

The news everyone was afraid of came just after the 2017 holiday season. On Thursday, January 4th, 2018, Sessions announced that he had rescinded the Cole Memo, while simultaneously announcing his intent to return to the “rule of law.” He hoped to violate state’s rights in order to protect a policy that no longer has the support of the majority of American voters. Thankfully, lawmakers have responded to this short-sighted policy shift by seeking to change federal laws on cannabis.

Many of these efforts stall out or fall flat, in large part because the entrenched powers that be in Washington D.C. refuse to allow real discussions about changing this broken policy to take place. However, Representatives from the House, tired of policy held hostage by a small minority of powerful politicians, took matters into their own hands on Thursday, Mary 17th.

The House Appropriations Committee voted to add new language to the bill that will fund the Department of Justice for 2019. The new language, included as a rider, received bipartisan backing and in fact initially offered by Republican David Joyce from Ohio. This rider will require that the Department of Justice respect state laws regarding both medical and recreational cannabis use. Similar provisions have been passed in recent years, but certain lawmakers have been trying their best to prevent any votes on critical cannabis-related laws in recent months.

Next month, the Senate Appropriations Committee will need to review the bill and approve the cannabis rider. If historical performance by the Committee is any sign, the new bill and rider should pass without much issue.

It is encouraging to see common-sense measures from federal-level lawmakers, even if they had to wait until citizen support for medical cannabis reached near unanimous levels, with roughly 92 percent of Americans supporting medical legalization of the plant. We look forward to the day when anyone who could benefit from cannabis will have safe and legal access to this natural medicine and powerful plant.


For previous Ladybud articles about federal law, click here.


Image Credit: DonkeyHotey under CC BY2.0