Colorado senator vows to protect legal pot after Justice Department reversal
DENVER — Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said Thursday that he’s placing a hold on Department of Justice nominees and will try to push legislation to protect marijuana sales in states where the drug is legal after Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew a federal policy that allowed recreational markets to emerge.
Gardner responded to Sessions’ decision to end an Obama-era directive called the Cole memo, which told federal prosecutors to refrain from interfering with marijuana sales legalized by states. The senator said it directly contradicts a pledge Sessions made to him before being confirmed as the nation’s top law enforcement official.
“What Jeff Sessions said is he didn’t think it was on Trump’s agenda to do this, he didn’t think President Trump had the bandwidth to do this, and he had no plans to repeal the Cole memorandum,” Gardner said in an interview.
Gardner noted that during the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump told a Colorado television reporter that he believed marijuana should be left up to the states.
“Why does Jeff Sessions think President Trump was wrong?” he asked.
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Gardner said he only found out via Twitter that Sessions was ending protections for marijuana legalized by states. He said he plans to reach out to other lawmakers from Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state to seek congressional protection for those programs.
Congress passed legislation in 2014 protecting medical marijuana policies.
Colorado’s senior senator, Democrat Michael Bennet, also slammed Sessions’ move.
“In rescinding the Cole memo, the Attorney General failed to listen to Colorado, and will create unnecessary chaos and confusion,” he said on Twitter.
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado condemned the decision as an infringement on states’ rights and pledged to fight any action targeting the state’s legal market.
“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,” the Republican said in a statement. “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.”
The state’s former “marijuana czar,” Andrew Freedman, said Sessions’ only point was to create confusion and chaos but he said the Justice Department cannot force states to make pot illegal.
Freedman, who formerly worked as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s director of marijuana coordination, said the uncertainty will make law-abiding people less likely to get involved in the market and make it harder for banks and insurance companies to justify the risk of working with marijuana businesses.
“It seems like a foolish step. Certainty brings better players into the market, more legitimate capital. People who want to be law-abiding will be more likely to enter into the regulated system,” he said.
Freedman said this is a time for states that have legal marijuana to increase enforcement to make sure businesses are following the law.
“We should all make sure it’s done as safely and efficiently as possible,” he said. “It’s more of a reason to double down on efforts, not to retreat.”