On Thursday, Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memorandum, ending an understanding between federal authorities and states with legal marijuana. The move raised fears of an impending crackdown and further cements Sessions’s reputation as an anti-pot crusader.
While marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, the Cole memo, issued by Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2013 under Former President Barack Obama, says the feds shouldn’t prioritize going after people in “tightly regulated market[s] in which revenues are tracked and accounted for.” The memo also said prosecutors shouldn’t consider “the size or commercial nature of a marijuana operation alone” when deciding to press charges.
In a one-page memo of his own, Sessions framed his new policy as a return to “well-established principles.” Noting the federal government gives “significant penalties” for pot crimes, Sessions said the Cole memo was “rescinded, effective immediately.”
What happens next is unclear. When the Cole Memo was written, two states — Colorado and Washington — had fully legal pot. Now, eight states allow for recreational marijuana. And almost every state has some kind of medical marijuana program, in direct violation of federal law. The only exceptions are Kansas, Idaho and Nebraska.
Sessions’s decision prompted a fierce backlash from the cannabis community and from people in legal states. In a statement, Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), described the change as “a disaster.” Colorado Senator Cory Garner, a Republican, tweeted that the move had “trampled on the will of the voters.”