Colorado governor doesn’t expect federal marijuana crackdown

Emily Gray Brosious

April 27, 2017: 1:52 PM CT

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) delivers remarks on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says a recent meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions left him with the impression that federal authorities aren’t planning an imminent crackdown on state-legal marijuana activities.

Medical cannabis is now legal to varying degrees in 44 states, and eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for adult recreational use. The Obama administration largely refrained from prosecuting state-legal marijuana activities, although the drug remains illegal under federal law.

Donald Trump’s presidency as well as his choice of outspoken marijuana opponent Jeff Sessions to lead the Justice Department have stoked fears of a federal marijuana crackdown. But Hickenlooper, a Democrat, says enforcement of federal laws on state-legal marijuana markets doesn’t appear to be a current Justice Department priority, despite Sessions’ tough talk against cannabis.

“He’s [Sessions] been very clear that he’s certainly anti-drug and he’s not going to encourage anyone to start a marijuana business … ,” Hickenlooper told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd during an April 26 broadcast interview. “That being said, he didn’t give me any reason to think that he’s going to come down and suddenly try to put everyone out of business.”

Sessions underscored concerns about rising rates of drug consumption in the country, but Hickenlooper said the attorney general was also receptive to learning about marijuana-related data collection and analysis efforts currently underway in Colorado. According to the governor, the state hasn’t seen any spikes in general marijuana consumption or teen consumption since the state legalized cannabis for recreational adult use in 2012.

Sessions told Hickenlooper “he has a lot of priorities” and gave the impression that the Justice Department is busy dealing with other, “more significant” drug problems.

“At one point he [Sessions] said to me, ‘Well, you haven’t seen us cracking down yet, have you?’” the governor said. “I interpreted that as he’s got his hands full … but it doesn’t mean, in any way, that he thinks he should be cutting marijuana any slack.”

Hickenlooper acknowledged that state-legal marijuana businesses are operating in a gray legal area and said his best advice is to adhere tightly to state law.

“I think one thing that a business person can take away is that if you’re going to run your business, it better be absolutely clean,” Hickenlooper said. “He [Sessions] was very clear, in no uncertain terms, that if someone’s doing something illegal … if there are illegal grows, or someone’s transporting marijuana out of state, we’re going to nail them.”

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See photos of Colorado’s legal cannabis industry:

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