Growing tensions between Federal and state law regarding the cannabis industry

Culture, News Writing, Published

The following was published on January 24, 2018 on YourHub.denverpost.com. Read it here

With Jeff Sessions’ recent decision to rescind the Cole memo on January 4th, Colorado politicians across the political spectrum have stood up in defense of states’ rights. The Cole memo essentially set guidelines for federal prosecutors regarding marijuana laws and reflected the Obama Administration’s relatively lax policy laws of states’ regulation, production, and distribution of marijuana.

Jeff Session’s memorandum does not amount to any new policy change. However, it does highlight growing tensions between federal and state law regarding the cannabis industry.

U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican originally not in favor of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, tweeted that Sessions’ decision “trampled on the will of the voters.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, a Democrat, claimed that “the industry has been implemented, the sky has not fallen like many of us thought it would and it’s being done responsibly across the country.”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump told 9News regarding recreational marijuana sales in states like Colorado: “I think it’s up to the states. I’m a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.”

Instead of keeping in line with Trump’s position, Sessions made a decision that has caused unrest in states that have legalized marijuana.

Sessions’ decision has not only created confusion regarding whether it is okay to grow, buy, or use marijuana in states where it is legal, it also could put thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue at risk.

A local Denver pot shop employee, who said he wanted to remain anonymous, is one of many people in Colorado who have spoken out against Sessions’ decision.

“I would be personally affected by [federal] crackdowns,” he said. “I have five years of experience now so that would be a major resume gap to cover.”

Since state regulation requires all cannabis sales to be recorded, employees of the cannabis industry can be identified, and, with Sessions’ encouragement of federal prosecutors to enforce the federal ban on marijuana, these employees can be jailed for having participated in a state-sanctioned legal industry.

“Personally, I would high-tail to Canada…I’m only second generation American and 100 percent Canadian so I think they would take me back. They recently legalized nation-wide so they could use my expertise I imagine,” said the anonymous employee at the Colorado cannabis store.

Gardner has passionately defended states’ rights on the senate floor and stated he is putting a hold on every nomination from the Department of Justice “until the attorney general lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.”

According to the Denver Post, before Gardner voted to confirm Attorney General Sessions, he was assured by Sessions that marijuana would not be a priority for the Trump administration.

The change of direction angered U.S Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, as well, telling The Denver Post that Sessions’ decision amounted to “reversal of the progress we’ve been making to get the federal government to respect decisions that states have made.”

Even without Sessions’ recent decision, federal banking regulations still have a ways to go in the marijuana industry. Due to marijuana’s federal illegality, local Denver pot shops have had difficulty opening bank accounts. Federal regulations against the industry have also encouraged local pot shops to avoid federal taxes, as the businesses are cash only.

“The majority of financers are already aware of the risk they are taking,” said the anonymous source. “That’s why banks and major trading companies still haven’t touched cannabis.”

Despite these federal issues, local pot shop employees do not seem too concerned.

“As far as Colorado goes, I have yet to meet anyone afraid of old Mr. Sessions,” said the anonymous cannabis store employee source.

“Colorado has done their due diligence to the point where they put a law in place last year stating that no local law enforcement can aid the feds in any affair that goes against the Colorado Constitution,” he said.

In a story in The Denver Post, John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and an expert on marijuana policy, commented that Sessions is clearly concerned about marijuana sales.

“I think this is an area of policy that [Attorney General Sessions] considers dangerous, that he considers problematic, and that he wants something done about,” said Hudak.

“Either marijuana is illegal,” said Hudak in a video published by the Brookings Creative Lab, “or it’s legal and regulated, but it can’t be both.”

Consensus among local Denver pot shop employees and that of those reporting on the issue is that Sessions’ announcement was merely a strategic move timed to create anxiety in California just days after it began issuing permits for medical and recreational marijuana businesses and that “there isn’t much bark to Sessions’ bite.”

“Also, Cory Gardner has made it clear he will protect his states’ rights,” said the Colorado cannabis store source.

This legal battle between state and federal law could potentially lead to an overturning of federal authority within the marijuana industry – a hope that is common among proponents of the legalization of marijuana, as well as of states’ rights.

“Honestly,” said the anonymous cannabis store employee, “I hope Sessions’ recent move gets Congress and the Senate moving to establish real protection for legal adult-use cannabis.”

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