Here’s the text of a letter sent yesterday from Govs. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Kate Brown of Oregon, Jay Inslee of Washington state, and Bill Walker of Alaska to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asking the federal government to not step up enforcement of marijuana laws without consulting with states that have legalized:
As governors of states that have legalized marijuana in some form, we ask the Trump Administration to engage with us before embarking on any changes to regulatory and enforcement systems. The balance struck by the 2013 Department of Justice Cole Memorandum (Cole Memo) has been indispensable – providing the necessary framework for state regulatory programs centered on public safety and health protections.
We understand you and others in the administration have some concerns regarding marijuana. We sympathize, as many of us expressed apprehensions before our states adopted current laws. As governors, we have committed to implementing the will of our citizens and have worked cooperatively with our legislatures to establish robust regulatory structures that prioritize public health and public safety, reduce inequitable incarceration and expand our economies.
The Cole Memo and the related Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) guidance provide the foundation for state regulatory systems and are vital to maintaining control over marijuana in our states. Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences. Changes that hurt the regulated market would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states. Likewise, without the FinCEN guidance, financial institutions will be less willing to provide services to marijuana-related businesses. This would force industry participants to be even more cash reliant, posing safety risks both to the public and to state regulators conducting enforcement activity. The Cole Memo and FinCEN guidance strike a reasonable balance between allowing the states to enact reasonable regulations and the federal government’s interest in controlling some of the collateral consequences of legalization.
Twenty-eight states, representing more than 60 percent of Americans, have authorized some form of marijuana-related conduct. As we face the reality of these legalizations, we stand eager to work with our federal partners to address implementation and enforcement concerns cooperatively. The Cole Memorandum and the associated FinCEN guidance are critical to the success of any collaboration.
We look forward to working with you and your administration. We stand ready to have further discussion on how these important federal policies work in our states.
As we’ve noted, AG Sessions’ rhetoric against marijuana is not encouraging for local supporters of legalization–and has betrayed an ignorance about the drug that invites basic questions about Sessions’ competence to make the judgment. A man who baselessly compares marijuana use to opiate addiction, running counter to all of the accepted science about the effects of marijuana, has no credibility demanding that states who have proven legalization can work shut down their marijuana industries.
Of course, Sessions doesn’t need credibility in order to use the power of his office. The biggest limiting factor in Sessions’ expressed desire to crush legal marijuana may be the lack of available law enforcement resources to carry out a crackdown.
Either way, they’re obliged to ask.