Federal Legislation on Local Marijuana

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent removal of the Obama-era policy regarding legalization of marijuana may have major implications for the Colorado marijuana industry. Sessions, a staunch opponent of legalization, believes that federal law should be the final word in the prosecution of drug offenders. Although recreational marijuana has been legal under Colorado state law since 2012, federal legislation still classifies marijuana as a schedule one drug. As defined by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, a schedule one drug is a substance that has no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Other drugs classified in this schedule are LSD, heroin, ecstasy, methaqualone, and peyote.

Photo by Nick Penzel

Sessions’ rescission of the 2013 Cole Memorandum, the Obama administration’s policy of not prosecuting marijuana offenses in states that legalized its use, is a surprising move away from the political right’s stance on state’s rights, as it returns the power regarding marijuana prosecution back to the federal government. This shift in policy may have come as a surprise for marijuana business owners. The Center for Responsive Politics reported that Republicans are receiving more donations from marijuana businesses than Democrats, ostensibly because of this focus on states’ rights.

The nullification of the Cole Memorandum also comes as a shock for Colorado Springs residents, who directly asked President Trump if the legal status of marijuana would be maintained if he were to be elected. The Gazette reported that Trump’s response was a reassuring one: “Officially, I’m in favor of medical marijuana. For legalization, I have been in favor of states’ rights. In other words, let the states work it out.” Trump repeatedly cited Colorado legalization law as a prime example of states’ rights working in favor of both the state and the federal government. This sort of flimsy stance on states’ rights creates uncertainty in the voter; are states’ rights paramount to right-wing politics or not? Does the push against marijuana legalization override the desire to move away from heavy federal presence? Trump and Sessions have yet to make that clear.

Proponents of a looser approach to marijuana prosecution argue that legalization at the state level leads to a decrease in criminal, black market drug activity, shifting money involved away from international cartels and towards legal businesses that provide revenue for the state. As shown in a study by the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at University of California San Diego, legalization in Colorado has led to fewer opioid-related hospitalizations. A return to federal law will not only mean more cannabis-related convictions, it will also foster a fearful attitude surrounding marijuana usage that legalization has been working to change. If state legalization doesn’t protect marijuana users from federal prosecution, it will likely cripple the rapidly growing industry. This crippling means a decrease in jobs stemming from cannabis businesses and tax revenues gained by legalization in states.

What does this mean for dispensaries in Colorado Springs? According to local business owners, not much. Because the sale of recreational marijuana was never legalized in Colorado Springs despite the federal legalization, the medical dispensaries in the city feel quite confident about their security underneath the old legislation. Kim Casey of Native Roots told The Catalyst that “the Native Roots perspective is that it has no effect on our daily business, and we look forward to continuing to lead the cannabis industry supporting our patients and customers.”

Casey also noted that “the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, Bob Troyer, has been quite clear that he has no reason to change his approach to legal cannabis businesses in our district.” In a statement regarding the change to policy, Troyer said that the Colorado state government “has already been guided by these principles in marijuana prosecutions—focusing in particular on identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state.” This statement provided comfort to dispensaries statewide; despite Sessions’ attempts, it seems that many dispensaries feel confident in their legal standing. As Aaron Grubbs, manager of small local dispensary Today’s Health Care told The Catalyst, “Jeff Sessions can keep trying, but our country is slowly but surely moving towards full legalization.”

Callie Zucker

Callie Zucker

Callie Zucker

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