What You Need to Know About Repealing of Cole Memo: FAQ - Sweedsy What You Need to Know About Repealing of Cole Memo: FAQ - Sweedsy
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What You Need to Know About Repealing of Cole Memo: FAQ


US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he is rescinding the Cole Memo which set a policy of federal non-interference with state-legal cannabis.

It is a clear sign that the federal prosecutors may intend to initiate country-wide legal actions against cannabis businesses in legal states. It may sound scary but keep in mind that this move does not trigger any immediate actions. Here’s what you need to know about the Cole Memo and consequences of its rescinding.

What is The Cole Memo?

The Cole Memo was a document initially proposed by former US Attorney General James M. Cole in 2013. He issued a memorandum to all US attorney that was initially published by the Department of Justice. The memo implied that prosecutors should focus only on the following list of actions related to state-legal cannabis operations:

  • Preventing the distribution of cannabis to minors;
  • Preventing revenue from cannabis sales from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels;
  • Preventing the distribution of cannabis from legal states to other states;
  • Preventing state-authorized cannabis activities from being used as a cover for the trafficking of other illegal drugs;
  • Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of cannabis;
  • Preventing driving under the influence of cannabis and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences related to marijuana use;
  • Preventing the cultivation of cannabis on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands;
  • Preventing cannabis possession or use on federal property.

Does Abolition of The Cole Memo Mean End of Legalisation?

No. Or, at least, not yet. Session’s move rescinds a Department of Justice policy guideline which indicates that federal prosecutors across the country can interfere with legal cannabis (and DOJ will no officially oppose that).

It may seem worrisome, and rightly so. However, the whole action does not look like a straightforward attempt to kill the industry. In an interview with Leafly, Steve DeAngelo, co-founder of Harborside, suggests that “this is an attempt to suppress the growth of the industry, not to kill us. It is more of a delaying tactic than a knife to our throat.”

What To Expect?

Nothing will happen right now. Undoing the Cole memo opens the door to federal interference with legal cannabis programs, but the move itself does not trigger anything.

One can expect that the first action would likely come from individual US attorney. Their offices could file criminal actions against cannabis businesses in legal states to shut down the business. It is not happening right now, but we will see in the next couple of months.

What’s The Reason Behind It?

Jeff Sessions is a prominent opponent of cannabis. His famous quote is that “good people do not smoke marijuana.” Sessions is pretty sure that cannabis could worsen the national opioid epidemic despite all available evidence that opioid use decreases in legal states.

One of the reasons may be an attempt to suppress blooming cannabis activity in state-legal markets. Sessions has criticised adult-use programs in legal states; however, legalization keeps spreading, supported by liberals and conservatives alike. With a festive start of sales in California on New Year’s Day, it became more evident that the industry is going full speed from there. Sessions may be trying to downplay it.

Do We Have Other Protections?

Yes, but not many. There is the Rohrabacher–Blumenaur amendment which is included in a federal spending bill. It currently prevents DOJ from spending resources to prosecute state-legal medical cannabis. Adult-use cannabis, however, is not protected; more, Congress will need to renew the Rohrabacher–Blumenaur amendment later this month. The Sessions’ move, in fact, could encourage representatives to protect state-legal cannabis further.

Will State Officials Be Forced to Hand Over Licensing Records?

Names of state-licensed cannabis companies and locations are already available at California’s Cannabis Control Bureau website. According to Leafly’s information, the DOJ can take advantage of public information on cannabis businesses and can be expected to subpoena state tax and sales record on individual cannabis businesses. However, such course of events will likely lead to a court battle because there are significant chances that California will not cooperate with a subpoena.

What About Banking?

The US Treasury Department’s 2014 policy guarantees that banks and credit unions associated with cannabis-related businesses will remain unaffected by DOJ’s move. More, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network which issued the guidance to banks is part of the Treasury Department, not the DOJ. However, rescinding the Cole Memo could cause some financial institutions to take a hard look at their current relationships with cannabis businesses across the country.

This post is based on this and this material.

(Sweedsy in no way encourages illegal activity and would like to remind its readers that marijuana usage continues to be an offense under Federal Law, regardless of state marijuana laws. To learn more, click here.)


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