The Revocation of the Cole Memo

And What It Means for Federal Enforcement on Cannabis

Writing for Mother Jones, Brandon Patterson spoke with the Marron Institute's Mark Kleiman and other experts to explore the potential consequences of Attorney General Jeff Session's decision to reverse an Obama-era policy that de-prioritized federal enforcement of cannabis laws.

So does Sessions’ move signal the beginning of the end for legal weed? Mark Kleiman, an expert on federal drug laws at New York University, doesn’t think so. “All he really said was if a US attorney wants to make one of these cases, I’m withdrawing the guidance telling him not to do so.”

Whether or not pot entrepreneurs may actually face prosecution depends largely on whether the Drug Enforcement Administration chooses to investigate them for violating federal law, Kleiman says—something the agency may not be inclined to do. DEA resources are “spread thin” fighting the opioid epidemic, and Sessions has reportedly said he doesn’t intend to shift DOJ resources away from fighting violent crime to go after legal pot shops.

Whether any prosecutions materialize will also depend on whether the handful of US attorneys in the six states that operate recreational marijuana programs choose to pursue them, Kleiman says; Colorado’s US attorney has already said he won’t change his hands-off approach. “Does it benefit your political career to start prosecuting state-legal businesses?” Kleiman says. “That’s putting aside the question of, in the midst of an opioid epidemic, does anybody have time for one of these cases? The answer is no.”

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