- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2018

Treasures of four states with marijuana laws in place have requested a meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his decision to rescind the so-called “Cole Memo,” a Justice Department memorandum written during the Obama administration that allowed states to legalize medical and recreational cannabis despite the federal government’s prohibition on pot.

“In this incredibly divisive time, the issues surrounding the legalization of cannabis provide a unique opportunity for policymakers, regulators and law enforcement officials from all sides to meet and reach a consensus,” wrote the treasurers of California, Illinois, Oregon and Pennsylvania in a letter sent Thursday to Mr. Sessions, co-signed by several cannabis industry representatives and stakeholders.

“We believe we can work together and achieve a solution that recognizes that more and more Americans are living in states where they have decided to legalize cannabis while balancing the important law enforcement issues the Cole Memos tried to account for,” their letter said.

Written in 2013 by James Cole, former President Obama’s deputy attorney general, the recently-rescinded Justice Department memorandum discouraged prosecutors against pursuing marijuana cases in states where the plant has been legalized for medical or recreational purposes, notwithstanding cannabis remaining a federally-banned Schedule 1 substance in the same category as heroin.

Mr. Sessions nullified the Cole Memo on Jan. 4 and directed the government’s attorneys to use “previously established prosecutorial principles,” raising uncertainties within the 29 states and counting with existing marijuana laws in place.

“These states represent a true cross-section of America,” the treasurers wrote. “This is not just a blue state phenomenon, but includes purple and red states in every corner of our country. A majority of Americans now live in states where they have decided to legalize cannabis.

“Whether cannabis should be legal is not relevant to the simple fact that it now is in more than half of the states,” they wrote. “With legalization taking place, there are sound public policy reasons for providing financial institutions and other entities that do business with the cannabis industry some comfort that they will not be prosecuted, or lose access to customer assets, simply for banking this industry. Among the policy positives that could result is greater public safety and more efficient collection of tax revenues.”

The Justice Department did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

California in 1996 became the first of 29 states to legalize medical marijuana. Californians legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, and state-licensed dispensaries started retail sales earlier this year.

Illinois and Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2013 and 2016, respectively. Oregon legalized medical marijuana in 1998 and recreational marijuana in 2014.

The letter to Mr. Sessions was led by California Treasurer John Chiang, a Democrat, and co-signed by representatives for the California Growers Association, The Cannabis Alliance, the California Cannabis Industry Association, Maine Credit Union League, Minority Cannabis Business Association and the National Cannabis Industry Association, in addition to the three other state treasurers.

A total of nine states currently have recreational marijuana laws in place, including six where the plant can be purchased from retail dispensaries.

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