As of January 1, 2018, recreational pot is legal. Or is it?

California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, and Alaska have legalized marijuana. In July 2018, Massachusetts will join the list; and in Maine, you’re not allowed to buy it, but can possess up to 2.5 ounces and grow your own. Also, 29 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized medicinal marijuana.

Here’s the kicker.

Last Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the “Cole Memorandum.”

What’s the Cole Memorandum?

On August 29, 2013, former U.S. Attorney General James M. Cole issued a memo that allowed states to implement their specific marijuana laws with limited federal interference. (The guidelines were based on a similar memo created in 2009.)

Cole recommended prosecutors and law enforcement focus on the following priorities as related to state-legal cannabis operations:

  • Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors;
  • Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels;
  • Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
  • Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
  • Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
  • Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
  • Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
  • Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.

The Cole Memo was significant because it represented a shift in the federal government to de-prioritize the use of funds to enforce cannabis prohibition under the Controlled Substances Act towards a more laissez-faire, hands-off approach. And this was the only document that protected non-medical marijuana legalization.

What’s the impact of canceling the Cole Memo?

With Mr. Sessions rescinding these guidelines, businesses and consumers in every state that has legalized marijuana will be at risk of harassment and prosecution by the federal government.

Sarah Armstrong, director of industry affairs for Americans for Safe Access, (advocates for legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research), said the announcement was, “… really very upsetting and scary for patients who don’t know when they walk in the door if there’s going to be a raid. Many dispensaries will be serving both patients and recreational users.”

Sarah Armstrong

Justice Department officials said the policy reversal doesn’t necessarily mean a rush of new marijuana prosecutions. Their goal is to increase the level of unease for growers and dispensary owners—along with anyone who does business with them.

How will this be accomplished?

By allowing individual U.S. attorneys to decide whom to prosecute.

In a Los Angeles Times article, Hillary Bricken, an attorney who represents businesses in the marijuana industry, said, “… leaving the policy up to each U.S. attorney had eliminated any clarity on the law. There will be varied and selective enforcement. Business owners will need to learn where their local U.S. attorney stands on the marijuana issues.”

More complications

Only 46 U.S. attorneys have been nominated and confirmed. While waiting for the Trump administration’s additional nominations, almost half are led by interim appointees, of which Mr. Sessions has appointed 17.

The result?

In evaluating their store’s vulnerability, entrepreneurs need to understand the local U.S. Attorney’s philosophy toward recreational marijuana.

Bipartisan reaction

Many republicans and democrats disagree with the policy cancelation. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), said, “…Sessions has just delivered an extravagant holiday gift to the drug cartels.”

Creating an atmosphere of uncertainty invigorates the black market, and causes the loss of significant tax revenues.

In the first two days of legal recreational sales in California, one business, (420 Central in Santa Ana), paid $50,000 in federal, state, and local taxes.

What can you do?

Please join me in signing the petition:

We need to decriminalize marijuana nationwide, not bring back the worst days of the War on Drugs.

Will rescinding the Cole Memo affect medical marijuana?

Since 2014, Congress has approved the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment to stop the Justice Department from interfering in states that have legalized medical marijuana. This amendment is attached to the federal government’s budget, which is scheduled to be voted on January 19th. Stay tuned.

Your comments?

Thanks for reading.

Warmest Regards,                                                                                                                      Michele

Author, Busted                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Link to subscribe to my blogs:



3 thoughts on “As of January 1, 2018, recreational pot is legal. Or is it?”

  1. RichRich

    Terrible, terrible decision, though not surprising given what Sessions has said about marijuana in the past. We can only hope that the Cole Memorandum will be re-instituted, or something similar will be put in place, despite Sessions’ fanatical opposition to the legal use of marijuana.

  2. John MorleyJohn Morley

    Although this may be throwing red meat to the conservative fringe, it’s reducing their numbers day by day.

    February 23, 2018

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