Crime

What the Sessions Memo Means for Hemp, Medical Marijuana and You

United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed federal pot protections on Thursday, January 4.
United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed federal pot protections on Thursday, January 4. Shutterstock.com/mark reinstein
United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo rescinding the Cole Memorandum and other federal pot protections dating back to 2009 on January 4. Colorado's elected officials — from Governor John Hickenlooper to Mayor Michael Hancock to the entire congressional delegation — were quick to condemn the move and vow to fight any attempt to prosecute law-abiding businesses in this state. But in the meantime, how does the Sessions memo affect you?

By rescinding the pot protections, Sessions and the United States Department of Justice authorized U.S. Attorneys to use federal resources to persecute marijuana cultivation, distribution and possession no matter if the activities are compliant with state laws. However, the memo also mentions the DOJ's "finite resources," and asks federal prosecutors to "weigh all relevant considerations" concerning the seriousness of the crimes before prosecuting.

That leaves some ambiguity as to what happens next, particularly in states that have legalized recreational marijuana, such as Colorado.

Robert Troyer, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado and the man who decides how to enforce federal cannabis laws here, issued a statement shortly after Sessions issued his memo, saying that his office had already been operating under the principles Sessions outlined, and would continue focusing on the "greatest safety threats to our communities around the state." On January 4, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman made similar remarks at a press conference.


In a statement sent to Westword, Troyer explained how he decides what constitutes the greatest marijuana safety threats:
Here is the question we ask every time we consider allocating our finite resources to prosecute any of the vast number of federal crimes we can prosecute, from violent crime to immigration crime to opioid crime: will this prosecution make Colorado safer? Under the Attorney General’s new memo, we have more freedom and flexibility to make decisions that make Colorado safer by prosecuting individuals and organizations for marijuana crimes that significantly threaten our community safety. Also, rather than give U.S. Attorneys any specific direction, the memo returns trust and local control to federal prosecutors, and clarifies that they know how to deploy their resources to make their Districts safer.
And on January 5, the Colorado Department of Revenue's Medical Enforcement Division released this bulletin to "Colorado Marijuana Industry Members and Stakeholders":
Retail pot dispensaries might be the symbols of legal marijuana, but they're hardly the only potential targets in Sessions's war on the plant. The legal pot sector extends to home growers, medical patients, industrial hemp operations and the millions of legal consumers in Colorado, Washington, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska and now California.

While you probably don't have to worry about getting swept up in a raid by the Drug Enforcement Administration on your way home from the pot shop, according to state officials and pot attorneys, that doesn't mean you can start cutting corners with your basement grow, business plans and pot purchases. Here's how the Sessions memo affects five areas of Colorado's legal marijuana field.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell