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EDITORIAL: Pot market won't change in Colorado after Jeff Sessions' move

By: The Gazette editorial board
January 5, 2018 Updated: January 5, 2018 at 7:23 am
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photo - Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Getty Images)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Getty Images) 

An impassioned Sen. Cory Gardner blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday, tapping his finger on the Senate-floor lectern and threatening meaningful action.

Sessions had announced an end to the Obama administration's lax marijuana enforcement policies, most notably those outlined in the "Cole Memo."

Written by then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole in August of 2013, marijuana entrepreneurs generally interpreted the memo as instruction for U.S. attorneys to leave routine marijuana enforcement to states. Intentionally or not, the memo messaged a green light to ramp up pot cultivation and commercial retail.

Colorado's Republican senator recounted meeting with Sessions before voting for his confirmation. Sessions assured him he would not reverse President Barack Obama's pot policies, or otherwise interfere with the choice of Colorado voters to legalize recreational production, sales and use.

The senator opposed recreational pot, but said he respects the decision of voters who enacted Colorado's first-of-a-kind legalization Amendment 64 in 2012. He asserted a responsibility to protect "states' rights" against intrusion by the federal government.

Gardner warned Sessions to restore the Cole Memo, and other Obama pot policies, or suffer consequences.

"Until that happens I think I am obligated, by the people of Colorado, to take all steps necessary to protect the people of Colorado and their rights," Gardner said. "And that's why I will be putting today a hold on every single nomination from the Department of Justice, until Attorney General Jeff Sessions lives up to the commitment he made to me in my pre-confirmation meeting with him."

By holding up nominees, Gardner can ensure long-term job security for Colorado U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer, a holdover who began with the Obama administration as first assistant U.S. attorney for Colorado. Troyer issued a statement Thursday that said the Sessions announcement would not cause changes under his watch.

The whole thing is much fuss over nothing.

The Cole Memo instructed federal prosecutors to leave routine enforcement to states. Cole offered an example.

"The Department of Justice has not historically devoted resources to prosecuting individuals whose conduct is limited to possession of small amounts of marijuana for use on private property," Cole explained.

The federal government had, and would continue, leaving "lower-level or localized activity to state and local authorities." Federal authorities, Cole explained, would enforce the Controlled Substance Act only "when the use, possession, cultivation, or distribution of marijuana has threatened to cause one of the harms identified above."

The harms Cole identified above include: Distribution to minors; marijuana "going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels"; diversion to states that prohibit marijuana; using state-authorized pot as a "cover or pretext" for trafficking other drugs; pot activity involving violence or firearms; "drugged driving"; cultivation on public lands; and possession on federal property.

Regardless of the Obama administration's priorities, educators and cops tell of rampant distribution to minors that goes unchecked by federal law enforcement or anyone else. Cartels routinely move marijuana out of Colorado. The soaring rate of Colorado traffic deaths involving drivers under the influence of THC indicates no federal crackdown on "drugged driving." Camping areas in Colorado's national parks and forests routinely reek of pot, indicating possession on federal property.

Federal authorities have mostly ignored the Obama administration's marijuana priorities, so they aren't likely to enforce stricter guidelines that may lie ahead. By shredding Obama's policies, Sessions will have little effect on supporters or opponents of Colorado's marijuana free-for-all. Little, if anything, will change.

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