US Attorney General Jeff Sessions today rescinded all prior advisory memoranda regarding enforcement priorities in connection with alleged cannabis crimes. This includes the key so-called Cole Memo issued in 2014. That memo advised US attorneys not to prioritize pursuing criminal cases against those complying with state legal cannabis laws as long as certain concerns (such as the involvement of organized crime or distribution to minors) were not present.
In his memo issued today, Sessions indicates that no special guidance is needed in the cannabis space and that general guidelines applicable to all potential prosecutions apply. These guidelines include, according to the memo, “federal law enforcement priorities set by the Attorney General, the seriousness of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution, and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community.”
In justifying his action, Sessions lists federal statutes making cannabis illegal, indicating his belief that those statutes “reflect Congress’ determination that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity is a serious crime.”
Sessions has been hinting at taking some action regarding the Cole Memo for a while. There was talk that he might replace it with another cannabis memo, maybe a bit tougher, but this memo seems to suggest that will not happen. A federal law known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment still prohibits spending federal dollars on enforcement against those complying with state medical cannabis laws. That law will expire with the current budget bill in a few weeks, and it is not clear that it will be retained in the new federal budget. Stay tuned.