Governors’ cite risks to states in changing marijuana guidance

Any changes to “regulatory and enforcement systems” for marijuana by the federal government should be preceded by engagement with their states, four western governors have recommended to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, especially as doing so could pose safety risks to both the public and state regulators enforcing those systems.

In a letter from the governors of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington to Sessions, the governors noted that the 2013 “Cole Memorandum” from the Justice Department struck a balanced that has been “indispensable – providing the necessary framework for state regulatory programs on public safety and health protections.”

The “Cole Memo,” issued in 2013 by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, provided new guidance for federal prosecutors regarding marijuana enforcement. The guidance generally suggested that such state-licensed marijuana suppliers needn’t worry about federal prosecution or asset forfeiture as long as they complied with state law and did not impinge upon federal “enforcement priorities.”

However, Govs. Bill Walker (I-Alaska), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Kate Brown (D-Oregon) and Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) told Sessions that it is their understanding that the attorney general and others in the administration of President Donald Trump have concerns regarding marijuana. But, they noted, altering the Cole Memo may not be the way to address those concerns.

“Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences,” the four governors wrote. “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.”

The governors also pointed out that without related Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (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,” they stated.

They added that both the Cole Memo and the FinCEN guidance are critical to the success of collaboration between state and federal governments. “Twenty-eight states, representing more than 60 percent of Americans, have authorized some form of marijuana-related conduct,” they wrote. “As we face the reality of these legalizations, we stand eager to work with our federal partners to address implementation and enforcement concerns cooperatively.”


Letter from four governors on marijuana laws