Colorado lawmakers tear into Sessions, Justice Department decision to rescind policy on legal marijuana

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Washington, D.C.-, January 4, 2018 | comments

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, said on Twitter Thursday he’s “prepared to take all steps necessary” to block a reported move by Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversing federal policy that has has let states legalize recreational marijuana. His Democratic counterpart, Michael Bennet, said the decision will “create unnecessary chaos and confusion.”

“This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation,” Gardner said in a tweet. “With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states.”

Gardner continued: “I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.”

The Associated Press reported Sessions, a fierce critic of legalized pot, plans to announce Thursday he’s rescinding an Obama-era policy that has led to a booming marijuana industry in Colorado and other states, including California, where the drug became legal Monday.

According to two people with knowledge of Sessions’ intentions, the former Alabama senator will grant discretion to federal prosecutors to decide how aggressively to enforce federal law, which still considers marijuana an illegal, controlled substance.

“In rescinding the Cole memo, the Attorney General failed to listen to Colorado, and will create unnecessary chaos and confusion,” Bennet tweeted soon after news broke about Sessions’ plans.

The Cole Memo, issued by the Obama Justice Department in 2013, said the feds would shift to what has amounted to a hands-off policy toward states that have legalized marijuana — if authorities met certain conditions, such as keeping it within state lines and away from children and the mob.

Voters in Colorado and Washington approved state constitutional amendments in 2012 to legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana. Since then, six other states and the District of Columbia have legalized pot.

A visibly angry Gardner took to the floor of the Senate Thursday to rip Sessions for the surprise announcement, recounting several times Sessions and Trump have said they planned to keep the Cole Memo in place.

“This is about a decision by the state of Colorado, and we were told states’ rights would be protected,” Gardner said. He reiterated what he’d said on Twitter, that he was placing a hold on every Justice Department nominee — a procedural move that prevents the Senate from voting to confirm personnel.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican, said in a statement he will do “everything he can” to protect Colorado’s right to decide what’s legal within its borders.

“Attorney General Sessions needs to read the Commerce Clause found in Article 1, Section 8 , Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution that limits the power of the federal government to regulate interstate and not intrastate commerce. The decision that was made to legalize marijuana in Colorado was made by the voters of Colorado and only applies within the boundaries of our state. Colorado had every right to legalize marijuana, and I will do everything I can to protect that right against the power of an overreaching federal government,” Coffman said.

Urging President Donald Trump to overrule his attorney general, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat and candidate for governor of Colorado, called it “absurd” that Sessions could be “waging war” on legal marijuana and states rights.

“The growing Colorado economy is in jeopardy with the news that the Attorney General will now go after states that have decided to regulate marijuana,” said Polis, a founder of the bipartisan House Cannabis Caucus, in a statement. “The Trump Administration needs to back off, and allow marijuana to be treated like alcohol under the law. At stake is a growing industry that has created 23,000 jobs and generated $200 million in tax revenue in Colorado.”

The president “had it right,” Gardner said in his initial Twitter reaction to the news about Sessions’ plans, linking to a clip of a 9News interview with Trump last summer. “This must be left up to the states.”

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton ripped the news as a “drastic departure” from Trump’s comments and a commitment by Sessions to Gardner that he would leave the Obama rules in place. The Cortez Republican said the potential policy shift “creates even greater confusion and uncertainty by leaving enforcement decisions up to federal prosecutors.”

“The Department of Justice should provide guidance on enforcement of marijuana for states that have voted to legalize it,” Tipton said in a statement. “The people of Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in the state, and I am committed to defending the will of Coloradans.”

The move by Sessions threatens to undermine the rights of Coloradans and jeopardize the burgeoning industry, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, said in a statement.

“This step could drag us back to the days of raids on legal dispensaries and people living in fear being jailed for using the medical marijuana they need. It could create a chilling effect on an industry that employs thousands of people in Colorado alone, where sales now top $1 billion per year. The federal government shouldn’t take punitive steps that undermine the will of our citizens expressed at the state level,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, an Arvada Democrat, called the Cole Memo a “step forward” and slammed Sessions for sowing uncertainty and showing “a lack of respect for states’ rights” while promoting legislation he’s sponsored that would allow marijuana businesses the ability to use banks and other financial services.

“Congress needs to take matters into its own hands,” Perlmutter said in a statement. “I have been urging Congress to act on this issue since 2013, and I once again call on my colleagues to act immediately starting with passing my SAFE Banking Act which allows legitimate marijuana businesses access to banking services. Fixing the banking system will ensure a strong regulated environment for marijuana sales and continue to curtail the black market. We’ve come too far to backtrack on this issue now. It’s time to find a real solution that will keep our communities safe and respect the will of voters in the majority of states in our country.”

Content originally published by Colorado Politics on January 4, 2018.
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