In light of Jeff Sessions rescinding the Cole memo, cannabis businesses should focus on compliance with their state and local regulations, according to Los Angeles cannabis attorney Kellsi Booth.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Department of Justice principles specific to marijuana enforcement that federal prosecutors, states, and cannabis industry participants have relied upon for years,” Booth said.
Sessions reaffirmed that marijuana is a ‘dangerous’ drug and marijuana activity remains a ‘serious crime’ in the eyes of the federal government. In place of the Ogden and Cole memos, Sessions encouraged federal prosecutors to consider the ‘general principles’ governing federal prosecutions in determining which marijuana activities to prosecute.
Booth got her start in the cannabis industry with the Maryland Department of Health, where she helped the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission create regulations for their medical cannabis program.
Booth shared this feedback on how cannabis businesses should approach the news.
Are there any actions businesses should take to protect themselves?
As long as marijuana remains a schedule I drug, marijuana businesses are at risk. However, I am certain that states like California and Colorado who have invested significant amounts of time and money into developing comprehensive medical and adult use marijuana programs will not let these businesses go down without a fight.
Businesses should continue to comply with all state laws and regulations, and establish positive relationships with the communities they serve to show that cannabis can be a benefit rather than a detriment. Finally, everyone who believes that marijuana should be legalized should push their federal lawmakers for marijuana law reform.
Can we expect any immediate action from federal prosecutors?
This announcement has created confusion and uncertainty. However, the practical implications of this policy change remain to be seen. Marijuana has always been a schedule 1 drug, and the Obama-era policies did not change that.
Rather, the Ogden and Cole memos spelled out certain enforcement priorities that I believe are largely in keeping with the general federal prosecution guidelines Sessions refers to in his own memo.
Should we anticipate more changes in federal law?
The fact of the matter is federal law is out of touch with reality. “Legal” marijuana is the fastest-growing industry in the United States, and the states have shown that marijuana can be decriminalized and regulated safely and effectively.
This is a wakeup call for Congress to change the antiquated laws and move forward with marijuana law reform.
In the coming weeks, I will be carefully watching to see whether Congress will take a stand or will follow the DOJ’s lead by removing the protections provided for the medical marijuana industry by the Rohrbacher-Blumenauer amendment.
Read Booth’s advice on 8 Factors California Cannabis Businesses Need to Know About State Licensing.