US senators push back against threat of federal cannabis crackdown

Emily Gray Brosious

March 3, 2017: 3:08 PM CT

U.S. Senators push Jeff Sessions to uphold state marijuana protectionsSen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks at a news conference on Feb. 16, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Warren is among a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators pushing for clarity from the Trump administration regarding its policy towards state-level marijuana legalization. (Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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Senators push Justice Department to uphold state marijuana protections.

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A bipartisan group of United States senators are pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to clarify the Justice Department’s policies on state marijuana laws, and urging the administration to uphold Obama-era directives that largely allow states to implement regulated marijuana markets without federal interference.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), both from states where voters have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, are leading efforts in the Senate to gain clarity from the current presidential administration on this matter.

“We respectfully request that you uphold the DOJ’s existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational marijuana use and ask that the Cole Memorandum remain in place,” the senators wrote in a Thursday, March 2, letter to Sessions.

The Obama administration’s policy towards state marijuana legalization, as outlined in the 2013 Cole Memo, advises federal authorities not to interfere with state-legal marijuana activities. Under these guidelines, voters across the country have mobilized to pass state-level medical and recreational marijuana laws in recent years. To date, 29 states have legalized medical marijuana for qualifying patients, and eight states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized recreational marijuana use by adults.

Along the campaign trail, Donald Trump repeatedly said marijuana policy should be left to the states, suggesting he intended to uphold Obama-era policy guidelines. But recent statements by high-level Trump administration officials are shaking the confidence of marijuana advocates and industry members.

On Tuesday, Feb. 28, Sessions told a group of attorneys he’s “dubious about marijuana,” and he doesn’t think expanding legal marijuana access will help make the U.S. a “better, healthier nation.”

The attorney general also took the opportunity this week to shoot down reports that marijuana may serve as a useful tool in reducing opiate abuse and addiction rates, despite a growing body of evidence suggesting exactly that. He went on to claim legal marijuana causes violent crime, with no evidence to back that up.

Sessions’ comments came on the heels of statements made by Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday, Feb. 23, hinting at a federal crackdown on recreational marijuana states.

“I believe you are going to see greater enforcement” of federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug for recreational use, Spicer told reporters during a press briefing. “The Department of Justice will be further looking into this.”

In their latest letter to Sessions, senators warn against backpedaling on this issue, underscoring numerous positive impacts associated with states’ ability to implement “practical, effective” cannabis laws.

“It is essential that states that have implemented any type of practical, effective marijuana policy receive immediate assurance from the DOJ that it will respect the ability of states to enforce thoughtful, sensible drug policies in ways that do not threaten the public’s health and safety,” the senators wrote. “This ensures that state infrastructure, including tax revenue, small businesses, and jobs, can be protected; DOJ resources can be used most effectively; and most importantly, that marijuana can be properly regulated to improve public health and safety.”

This push from U.S. senators follows a similar move by members of the U.S. House of Representatives, who last week formed a Congressional Cannabis Caucus to advocate for smart and sensible approaches to marijuana policies.

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Related slideshow:

Where Trump’s cabinet picks stand on marijuana policy

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Gallery source links:

Mike Pence – Leafly, On The Issues, NORML; Reince Priebus – The Denver Post; Rex Tillerson – CNN, CNN; John Kelly – CBS News, Drug Policy Alliance, Military Times; Mike Pompeo – NPR, Vote Smart; Nikki Haley – CNN, Tenth Amendment Center; Steven Mnuchin – NBC News, Senate Committee on Finance; Jeff Sessions – USA Today, Politico; Ryan Zinke – Americans for Safe Access, Vote Smart; Sonny Perdue – On The Issues; Hemp Business Journal; David Shulkin – Department of Veterans Affairs/Scribd; Tom Price – NORML; Scott Pruitt – Associated Press; Rick Perry – “The Hugh Hewitt Show”; Mick Mulvaney – NORML

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