An unsurprising move by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind an Obama-era memo on marijuana may have provided the impetus needed to achieve federal legalization.
Many cannabis businesses and stakeholders felt reassured by the outpouring of support from elected officials across the country, including prominent Republicans in Congress. For most cannabis companies – such as at Terrapin Care Station – it was business as usual following Sessions’ guidance to federal prosecutors.
Soon after Sessions suggested that federal prosecutors should target state-based legal marijuana businesses, elected officials from both sides of the aisle came to the cannabis industry’s defense. From Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner to a bipartisan group of state attorneys general, the vast majority of support was behind the cannabis industry.
“We urge Congress to advance legislation that would allow states that have legalized medical or recreational use of marijuana to bring that commerce into the banking system,” wrote the group of attorneys general, including Colorado Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who is running for governor in the state.
Indeed, it would be ironic for Sessions’ move to have provided the momentum needed in Congress to legalize cannabis; he has waged a war on marijuana for the length of his career. But his memo has caused many in Congress to consider blocking the use of federal funds to target retail marijuana businesses while separately addressing obstacles to banking. Both steps would significantly move the needle.
Sessions battles negative headlines
The backlash to Sessions’ memo on marijuana came after Democrat Doug Jones defeated embattled Republican Roy Moore to fill Sessions’ vacated U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. It was the first time a Democrat had won an Alabama U.S. Senate seat in 25 years.
Things seemed to get worse for Sessions as news of his marijuana memo was dwarfed by more significant news that he himself could be in a “heap of legal trouble.” A Sessions aide reportedly went looking for dirt on former FBI Director James B. Comey, going to a congressional office for evidence several days before Comey was fired. Sessions allegedly wanted one negative story per day on Comey in the media.
The Comey revelations are significant, as President Trump fights investigations into whether his campaign had ties to Russia. If Sessions was active in looking to undermine Comey as part of the investigation, then he could be facing an obstruction-of-justice problem.
Showing a lack of confidence in the conservative U.S. attorney general, two leading members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus recently called for Sessions to step down.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Russia investigation, but it would appear he has no control at all of the premier law enforcement agency in the world,” wrote Mark Meadows, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, and Jim Jordan, a member who sits on the oversight and judiciary committees. “It is time for Sessions to start managing in a spirit of transparency to bring all of this improper behavior to light and stop further violations.”
A letter from the two lawmakers appeared as an op-ed for the right-leaning Washington Examiner just moments before Sessions’ announcement on legal marijuana prosecutions.
It was pretty clear from the headlines that the media was more interested in doubt surrounding Sessions’ own administration, rather than a somewhat uninspiring memo on federal marijuana enforcement. Within the cannabis industry, optimism quickly grew that legalization supporters were winning the debate and that significant change is coming.
“It seems like a lot of the support is coming in our direction,” I told the Daily Camera in my role as communications director for Terrapin Care Station. “We’re feeling really confident and really happy that our leadership in the state and in Congress is standing up for us.”