No Republican State Senators, Reps Tell Jeff Sessions to Back Off Colorado Pot

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is no fan of marijuana.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is no fan of marijuana. Shutterstock file photos
Thirty-three members of the Colorado Legislature are backing a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling for congressional action "to protect the sovereignty of states like Colorado and ensure that marijuana businesses and consumers will be free from undue federal interference." Though the state politicos and the entire Colorado congressional delegation, regardless of party designation, support the letter, not a single Republican state senator or representative has added his or her signature.

The letter was originally distributed on February 6 under the names of four Democrats, including Senator Michael Bennet and representatives Diana DeGette, Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter, as well as five Republicans: reps Scott Tipton, Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman, plus Senator Cory Gardner, whose office has been working with NORML to develop just such a bill.

But GOP legislators on the state level apparently don't feel quite as free to take on Sessions over marijuana as do those elected to national office.

NORML outreach director Kevin Mahmalji has spent months trying to get Republicans to add their names to the letter, but he's faced the same kind of reluctance he experienced in March, when his group helped launch the Colorado Cannabis Caucus, a statewide version of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

Prior to the Colorado caucus's first meeting, when only Democrats had committed to attend, Mahmalji told us, "Ideally, we can balance it out. It doesn't have to be a fifty-fifty mix. But from an optics standpoint, getting it as close to that as possible would be important. If you have a caucus that's heavy with either party, more than likely you'll deter bipartisanship."

Mahmalji might not have that sort of buy-in for the letter — but those who support its message are certainly passionate. In a statement, state senator and signatory Angela Williams notes that "at a time when the majority of states now regulate marijuana, medical and adult-use, it makes no sense from a political, fiscal, or cultural perspective for Congress to allow Attorney General Jeff Sessions to undermine the will of the people of Colorado. I encourage members of Colorado's Congressional delegation to take action to protect Colorado's sovereignty as a state by standing as one against any potential enforcement action by the Department of Justice."

click to enlarge Colorado state senator Angela Williams. - ANGELA4COLO.COM
Colorado state senator Angela Williams.
Mahmalji seconds this sentiment. "Regardless of the recent commitment by President Trump to not pursue threats made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to crack down on states that have enacted regulations for legal marijuana programs, there needs to a be a legislative solution," he stresses via email. "This effort by Colorado lawmakers demonstrates their frustrations with the ongoing conflict between state and federal laws, and will serve as another tool as we push for federal reforms. Until then, there is nothing protecting marijuana consumers and business owners, who are operating in compliance with state laws, from federal intervention. The days of playing political hot potato with this issue are over. It’s time for members of Colorado’s Congressional Delegation to take action."

Republicans elected to Colorado's General Assembly seem to feel differently. We've reached out to spokespersons for GOP members of the House and Senate and will update this post when and if they get back to us.

Here's the text of the letter, followed by a link to the original document:

Letter to Jeff Sessions:

To the Colorado Congressional Delegation:

The Honorable Michael Bennet
The Honorable Cory Gardner
The Honorable Diana DeGette
The Honorable Jared Polis
The Honorable Scott Tipton
The Honorable Ken Buck
The Honorable Doug Lamborn
The Honorable Mike Coffman
The Honorable Ed Perlmutter

On January 4th, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department had rescinded, effective immediately, the Obama administration guidelines — known as the Cole memorandum — which outlined public safety protections and directed US attorneys to not interfere with those compliant with state marijuana laws.

While the AG's actions were not altogether unexpected, they do clash with pledges previously made by President Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, as well as with comments made by Sessions during his Senate confirmation process. At that time, Sessions acknowledged that the guidelines laid out in the memo were "appropriate."

Colorado residents voted overwhelmingly to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana in 2012. Since that time, we have shown the world that marijuana can be successfully regulated in a safe and effective manner. Legal statewide marijuana markets have provided an economic boost to our state — leading to increased tax revenues, tourism, and home values. At the same time, these laws have not been associated with serious adverse public health consequences. Teen marijuana use has significantly fallen in recent years, as have opioid related hospitalizations and deaths.

Sessions has clear intentions to facilitate the dismantling of the United States' marijuana industry despite its widespread, accepted legal status. One in five Americans reside in a state where the adult-use of recreational marijuana is legalized in statute and the majority of Americans reside in a state where the use of medical marijuana is legally authorized. The most recent nationwide polling data compiled by Gallup shows 64 percent of US adults support the legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana. Quinnipiac University found that 71 percent believe that states, not the federal government, should set marijuana policy.

It is time for members of Congress from Colorado and other states where marijuana has been legalized to step up and defend the rights of their constituents - many of whom rely on these policies for their health and welfare. To accomplish this, marijuana must be removed from the Controlled Substances Act. States need to be given the power and flexibility to establish their own marijuana policies free from federal interference.

Our Attorney General is unwilling to respect the will of voters, does not recognize states' rights, and has readily eliminated safeguards that protected our communities. Congressional action is necessary to protect the sovereignty of states like Colorado and ensure that marijuana businesses and consumers will be free from undue federal interference.

Click to see the names of the state senators and representatives who signed the Colorado Congressional delegations' letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts