After the passage of Amendment 64 in November 2012, Governor John Hickenlooper, who had not endorsed the measure, reminded supporters of the proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in Colorado that "federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or [Goldfish] too quickly."
Today, governors of the four states that were first to legalize recreational marijuana — Hickenlooper in Colorado, Jay Inslee in Washington, Kate Brown in Oregon and Bill Walker in Alaska— sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, urging them to respect the rights of the states to pass such measures, and to consult with the states that have been operating under 2013's Cole Memorandum before making any enforcement changes. Here's the letter:
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"As governors of states that have legalized marijuana in some form, we ask the Trump Administration to engage with us before embarking on any changes to regulatory and enforcement systems. The balance struck by the 2013 Department of Justice Cole Memorandum (Cole Memo) has been indispensable – providing the necessary framework for state regulatory programs centered on public safety and health protections.
"We understand you and others in the administration have some concerns regarding marijuana. We sympathize, as many of us expressed apprehensions before our states adopted current laws. As governors, we have committed to implementing the will of our citizens and have worked cooperatively with our legislatures to establish robust regulatory structures that prioritize public health and public safety, reduce inequitable incarceration and expand our economies.
"The Cole Memo and the related Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) guidance provide the foundation for state regulatory systems and are vital to maintaining control over marijuana in our states. Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences. 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. Likewise, without the 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. The Cole Memo and FinCEN guidance strike a reasonable balance between allowing the states to enact reasonable regulations and the federal government’s interest in controlling some of the collateral consequences of legalization.
"Twenty-eight states, representing more than 60 percent of Americans, have authorized some form of marijuana-related conduct. As we face the reality of these legalizations, we stand eager to work with our federal partners to address implementation and enforcement concerns cooperatively. The Cole Memorandum and the associated FinCEN guidance are critical to the success of any collaboration. We look forward to working with you and your administration. We stand ready to have further discussion on how these important federal policies work in our states."
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Although Colorado and Washington voters approved measures legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana on the same day in 2012, Hickenlooper signed off on the ballot results sooner, and Colorado became the first state to actually sell recreational marijuana, on January 1, 2014. Both before that date and since, Colorado officials — including Hickenlooper — have worked hard on the system that regulates this state's cannabis industry.
"Any forced change in federal enforcement policy will interrupt the collaborative approach we have taken with local law enforcement and the federal government," said Mark Boulton, Hickenlooper's marijuana advisor, after the letter was released. "Our hope is that we can continue working with the administration to build on a regulatory system that prioritizes protecting public safety and public health."
But don't break out the Cheetos just yet.