Koch Brothers Criticize Trump Administration Over Legal Pot

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

In a rebuke of United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions's rescission of the Cole Memorandum, the Koch brothers released a sharply worded statement supporting states' rights with regard to legal marijuana. The statement, first released in late January, argues that "citizens have spoken on marijuana" and that the United State Justice Department can "choose to be on the side of individual liberty and states rights" by not interfering.

"That Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Republican appointee in a Republican administration, is undoing a Democratic appointee’s work from a Democratic administration is irrelevant," the statement reads. "Republicans and Democrats alike have criticized the decision, and for good reason: It does little to improve the lives of people in our communities."

The Koch brothers want marijuana farms to be respected by the federal government.EXPAND
The Koch brothers want marijuana farms to be respected by the federal government.
Jacqueline Collins

The influential Koch brothers are among the wealthiest donors to Republican causes, and they've pledged to donate up to $400 million in the 2018 midterm election cycle, so their opinions carry weight in Republican circles. Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman in particular has been a traditional favorite of the Kochs, and the brothers poured $200,000 into Colorado school-choice debates last summer. The Kochs' public disagreement with the Trump administration over marijuana could offer Republican electives more leeway to support legal marijuana at the state level without risking major GOP donor support.

The Kochs have plenty of motivation when it comes to Sessions, who's been a thorn in the side of the legal marijuana industry since taking his position in 2017. In January, he rescinded the 2013 Obama-era Cole memo, which offered protections from federal prosecution for the distribution, growth and possession of pot in states where marijuana is legal.

Of note, the Koch statement goes beyond just defending states' rights in reference to their dispute with Sessions over legal marijuana. The statement also labels the war on drugs "misguided" and advocates a "new, smarter approach to drug policy."

"The administration would be better suited working with members of Congress to reform outdated sentencing laws," the statement reads. "However well-intentioned these laws were upon implementation, they have ruined lives, torn apart families and communities, and have burdened taxpayers, doing little to keep people safe."

This also falls in line with Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner's tongue lashing of Sessions immediately after the memo was rescinded, and it represents a potentially large split between the Trump administration's view of legal marijuana and other Republicans' traditional support for states' rights and, perhaps, legal marijuana overall. Gardner began holding up DOJ nominations in retaliation of the Cole memo revocation, but he ended most of those holds last week as an "act of good faith" after talks with DOJ leadership, according to a statement from his office.

An e-mail asking the Koch brothers for further comment was not returned.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.