AG Jeff Sessions Rescinds Cole Memo Regarding Marijuana
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Summary: Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration’s decision to nix the Cole Memo, which placed a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly states.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions eliminated memos established by the Obama administration regarding marijuana interference with states that pass laws legalizing marijuana. The Obama administration adopted a policy of not interfering with the laws of marijuana-friendly states. Eliminating those policies will allow federal prosecutors to be on the prowl to crack down on marijuana if they wish.


The once hands-off approach of governing will switch to one where prosecutors can individually decide how to spend their resources in the fight against the possession, distribution, and cultivation of marijuana in states that have made it legal.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law even though a number of states have decriminalized or legalized the drug. Sessions, in his statement Thursday, called the shift a “return to the rule of law” but did not go as far as directing prosecutors to attack.

The statement read: “In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the department’s finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions. These principles require federal prosecutors deciding which cases to prosecute to weigh all relevant considerations of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution, and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community.”

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Since 2013, numerous states have legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use. Jim Cole, the former senior Justice Department official responsible for writing the memos, wrote the “Cole memo” to create a middle ground between federal and state laws. He said, “The whole point was to do what we could to maintain some control in this area.”

The memo acknowledged that marijuana was still illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. However, it gave prosecutors the power to focus on other matters and leave marijuana issues alone as long as the marijuana matters didn’t threaten other federal priorities. Cole told CNN in a phone interview, “The memo set out harms we saw associated with marijuana” but allowed a “let’s let the states deal with this. Given a non-perfect situation, we figured this was the best way to deal with it.”

Cole further explained that the new memo “reduced the level of comfort in the industry until it sees how US attorneys actually implement it. Each US attorney now gets to decide what will and will not be prosecuted. We’ll have to see how it plays out … There was a previously a higher level of reliability that you could operate your industry if you followed certain rules. That’s not necessarily being destroyed, but it is being thrown into question.”

Colorado has already made a statement about their intention to not change their priorities. “Today the Attorney General rescinded the Cole Memo on marijuana prosecutions, and directed that federal marijuana prosecution decisions be governed by the same principles that have long governed all of our prosecution decisions. 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. 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.”

The timing of the announcement from the attorney general coincides with the legalization of marijuana in the country’s largest state. Voters in California passed the measure in November but it did not go into effect until January 1, 2018.

Do you think any states will change how they prosecute marijuana offenses? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about states that have recently legalized marijuana, read these articles:



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