Federal marijuana legalization is inevitable despite opposition from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to the author of Obama-era pot policies.
James Cole, a former deputy attorney general and author of the so-called “Cole Memo” rescinded by Mr. Sessions in January, predicted an end to federal marijuana prohibition in an interview published Wednesday by Marijuana Moment, a news site that covers cannabis policy.
“I think Congress is where the activity needs to take place,” Mr. Cole said of federally legalizing marijuana. “I think it is moving toward that. There’s growing acceptance of it. I think it’s a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ at this point.”
Issued by the Obama administration in 2013, the Cole Memo advised Department of Justice prosecutors against pursuing marijuana cases in states that have legalized the plant for medical or recreational purposes, effectively side-stepping the government’s longstanding pot prohibition and shielding those states from federal intervention.
A staunch critic of legalization, Mr. Sessions invalidated the Cole Memo on Jan. 4, declaring “previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately.”
“I was not completely surprised,” Mr. Cole told Marijuana Moment. “Certainly, the attorney general had expressed his views about marijuana and the marijuana industry. He had also, however, expressed views that he thought that the memo did a pretty good job of trying to rectify and regulate a difficult area because of the legal complications of it.
“As to his reasons that it was unnecessary, I didn’t agree with that. I thought that, in fact, it was necessary,” Mr. Cole continued. “My concern in drafting the memo was public safety and trying to make sure that, accepting the fact that marijuana was going to be used on an increasing basis based on the resolutions in the states, you wanted to keep the cartels and the gangs out of it. And the best way to do that was by providing a regulatory scheme that would allow legitimate businesses that are well-regulated to exist so they can comply with the law, so that any revenue that may be generated can be brought into the state coffers, so that the enforcement of the regulations can be funded.”
Thirty states and D.C. have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana, starting with California in 1996, despite federal prohibition. Nine of those states and the nation’s capital have separately legalized the plant for recreational purposes, starting with Colorado in 2012, including seven where adults can legally purchase marijuana from licensed retail dispensaries.
Several marijuana proposals are currently pending on Capitol Hill, including legislation introduced late last month by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, that would decriminalized marijuana by removing it from the government’s list of controlled substances.
Earlier last month, meanwhile, President Trump said he would “probably” support a separate bill led by Sen. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican, that would let states regulate marijuana without federal interference.
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