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Colorado's congressional delegation seeks to block Sessions on pot

January 9, 2018 Updated: January 9, 2018 at 10:48 am
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WASHINGTON - Members of Colorado's congressional delegation plan to meet this week to discuss the possibility of legislation to protect the state's marijuana laws and businesses.

A spokesperson for Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, acknowledged the planned meeting to Colorado Politics but provided no additional details.

"Rep. DeGette has been involved in bipartisan talks during the last several days with other members of the Colorado delegation," said spokesperson Lynne Weil. "She believes legislation is needed to address this issue and has arranged a delegation meeting to discuss next steps."

DeGette is the senior member of the nine-member Colorado delegation.

The Colorado lawmakers are responding to a decision announced last week by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind Obama administration policy instructing U.S. attorneys to basically take a hands-off policy in dealing with state laws that legalized both recreational and medical marijuana.

The Obama administration policy did not endorse marijuana use. It merely left the enforcement of marijuana laws approved by the states to state discretion. Colorado voters approved the recreational use of marijuana in 2012.

Colorado's congressmen and U.S. senators issued statements condemning Sessions' decision after it was announced last Thursday. They also held a conference telephone call Friday - first reported by the website The Cannabist - in which they discussed tactics including potential legislation to prevent the Justice Department from trying to crack down on Colorado's legal marijuana industry.

"We are still determining the appropriate response both as a delegation and from our individual office," said Ashley Verville, a spokesperson for Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Arvada, who participated in the conference call.

The Cannabist reported that the offices of DeGette, Perlmutter, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis and Republican U.S. Sen.Cory Gardner were among those who participated in the conference call.

Gardner has said that he plans to meet with Sessions this week on marijuana policy.

Gardner also stated that he would block further Justice Department nominations until Sessions reversed course.

"Before I voted to confirm Attorney General Sessions, he assured me that marijuana would not be a priority for this administration," Gardner said at the time. "Today's action directly contradicts what I was told and I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ (Department of Justice) nominees, until the attorney general lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation."

Gardner also angrily condemned Sessions during a speech on the Senate floor.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, added in a statement, "The decision that was made to legalize marijuana in Colorado was made by the voters of Colorado and only applies within the boundaries of our state. Colorado had every right to legalize marijuana and I will do everything I can to protect that right against the power of an overreaching federal government."

Sessions' memo to federal prosecutors said, in part, "...marijuana is a dangerous drug," adding that "marijuana activity is a serious crime."

He told prosecutors to consider prosecuting marijuana offenses after weighing "all relevant considerations," including "the seriousness of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community."

Denver-based U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer said his office was already following those basic guidelines.

"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. "We will, consistent with the attorney general's latest guidance, continue to take this approach in all of our work with our law enforcement partners throughout Colorado."

Justice Department officials have declined to confirm or deny they will file lawsuits to overturn state laws allowing marijuana use.

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