Colorado Sen. Gardner Presses Sessions About Cannabis Policy
There’s no doubt that AG Jeff Sessions’ announcement that the Obama-era Cole Memo would be rescinded ruffled a lot of feathers.
Particularly in Colorado.
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner said in an interview that he intends to press Sessions about his approach on cannabis policy when they meet on Wednesday. Gardner is also prepared with weapons of his own if things don’t go his way – which is to block all Department of Justice nominees including marshals and attorneys from other states, since Senate regulations allow lawmakers the liberty to do so.
This isn’t the first threat that Gardner has made after Sessions’ announcement was revealed last week, which received backlash from the political arena as well as from the cannabis industry, patients, and users alike. “It’s my job to protect those states’ rights and states’ decisions,” said Gardner. “I would anticipate it being (Justice) officials. I would anticipate it being U.S. marshals and U.S. attorneys. But the bottom line is that this can be solved by the Department of Justice.”
However, Justice Department officials refused to comment on Wednesday’s meeting. Congressional aides say that is Gardner pushes through with this threat of blocking nominees, it would affect at least 2 dozen people including many high-level officials at the Justice Department.
Gardner is open to the idea of Sessions backing down, saying that if this happened, he would stand down as well. “They can reverse the decision to rescind the Cole memorandum,” he said. “They could have a new way forward with Jeff Sessions protecting states’ rights.” But if things don’t go according to plan, Gardner as well as other Colorado lawmakers are working on the legislative framework that would forbid the Justice Department from spending money to compel legal states to comply with federal cannabis laws. Even though Congress protects medical cannabis, if Sessions’ policies move forward it would affect recreational laws too. “It would apply to the funding restriction to commercial marijuana enforcement, as well as medicinal,” says US Rep. Jared Polis. “That’s what we’re pushing for.”
It was no surprise that lawmakers from legal states especially Colorado were affected and responded with counterattacks to Sessions’ announcement last week. Gardner also tweeted that Sessions’ announcement “has trampled on the will of the voters.” The move puts Colorado’s marketplace in serious risk, the very first legal marketplace in the nation. “This industry has been implemented, the sky has not fallen like many of us thought it would and it’s being done responsibly across the country,” says Democratic Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who also referred to the decision as a disappointment.
Gardner spoke out in the Senate floor calling attention to the fact that Sessions’ move will also affect thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue, and referred to it as a trampling of Colorado’s rights.
“Before I voted to confirm Attorney General Sessions, he assured me that marijuana would not be a priority for this administration,” Gardner says in a statement. “Today’s action directly contradicts what I was told, and I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding US Department of Justice nominees, until the attorney general lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.”
He also added: “In 2016, President Trump said marijuana legalization should be left up to the states and I agree.”
The outrage against Sessions also came from other lawmakers including Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Rep. Mike Coffman, both of whom opposed legalizing recreational cannabis but 55% of Colorado voters approved it back in 2012. Coffman released a statement saying, “Attorney General Sessions needs to read the Commerce Clause found in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the US Constitution that limits the power of the federal government to regulate interstate and not intrastate commerce.”
Still, Sessions doesn’t seem to get it. “It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law,” Sessions said in a statement. “Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all US Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them with all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country.”
Both men came out of Wednesday meeting standing firm in the showdown over federal marijuana policy. Gardner is threatening to slow down Justice Department appointees and Sessions is not backing down from his enforcement of federal cannabis law. Stay tuned as Congress prepares a few bills and amendments to take the wind out of Jeff Sessions' sails.
The showdown is on!
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