Jeff Sessions’ rollback of the Cole memo last week left a lot of citizens, business owners and investors confused and anxious. Even more than that, it sparked a conversation about states’ rights—or lack thereof.

The Obama-era Cole memo (named for then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole) directed federal prosecutors to essentially back off marijuana enforcement in states that had voted to legalize the substance. With the policy in place and the legalization of marijuana in several states, the cannabis business has begun to flourish into a multi-million, if not billion, dollar industry—all while infusing state government programs through tax dollars.

Now, however, growers and businesses in states with legalized recreational marijuana are concerned about possible federal interference.

According to The Washington Post, Sessions told prosecutors to disregard the old guidance and instead use their discretion—taking into consideration the department’s limited resources, the seriousness of the crime and the deterrent effect that they could impose—in weighing whether charges were appropriate.

Upon follow up, neither Sessions nor the Justice Department commented on if/how federal prosecutors would target legal growers and shops.

There is a congressional amendment that blocks the Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana programs; and the department told the Associated Press it will follow that law, but “would not preclude the possibility of medical marijuana-related prosecutions.”

Currently, marijuana is legal for medical purposes in 25 states and the District; recreationally, the drug is legal in eight states as well as the District.


Reaction to the new directive was swift.

According to the AP, some sheriffs in California welcomed the news, and even expressed hoped for federal intervention and collaboration. Recreational marijuana became legal in California as of Jan. 1, 2018. Analysts expect this to be a gigantic boon for the overall market given the population size of California.

The Fraternal Order of Police applauded the memo’s revocation, calling it “good news for public safety and public health,” and further suggesting it will restore law enforcement discretion that the memo previously took away.

State leaders, on the other hand, expressed their dismay with Sessions’ decision.

The official Twitter account for the Colorado Senate Democrats tweeted, “We’ll give Jeff Sessions our legal pot when he pries it from our warm, extremely interesting to look at hands,” before going on to point out the various infrastructure enhancements made in the state through marijuana tax revenue—including new roofs, emergency generators and much-needed renovations to schools.

Colorado’s Republican Senator Cory Gardner also tweeted his displeasure with Sessions’ decision, saying it contradicts what the now-AG told Gardner prior to his confirmation.

“With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states,” Gardner wrote. “I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.”

In 2016, when he was a presidential candidate, President Donald Trump said he would not use federal authority to shut down recreational marijuana, and that it should be left up to the states. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders walked that back last Thursday, though, saying the president “strongly believes we should enforce federal law.”