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Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican, slammed Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind the “Cole memorandum,” an Obama-era Department of Justice directive that provided a “safe harbor” to the marijuana industry in states that have legalized marijuana, like Colorado.
Gardner said during a speech on the Senate Floor that he will be holding up all nominations submitted by the Department of Justice until Sessions lives up to his pre-confirmation promise to not interfere with legalized marijuana. Several of the Trump administration’s picks for U.S. Attorney positions are awaiting confirmation.
“Up until about 8:58 this morning we believed in Colorado that states’ rights would be protected,” Gardner said. “Up until Twitter told us otherwise, we believed that the will of Colorado voters would be respected. Why did we believe that? Well conversations I had with then-Senator Jeff Sessions prior to his confirmation as Attorney General.”
Gardner said he was told by Sessions that “he didn’t have any plans to reverse the Cole memorandum. Then Senator Sessions told me that marijuana simply wasn’t going to be on President Trump’s agenda. That it was something they weren’t going to deal with. That it was something that President Trump simply wasn’t going to focus on. That was back in the spring of 2016 and up until 8:58 this morning that was the policy. One tweet later, one policy later, a complete reversal.”
The Associated Press first reported Thursday morning that Sessions would be ending the Obama-era policy that allowed legal marijuana to flourish in some states. His new stance calls for federal prosecutors in states where marijuana is legal to decide how aggressively to enforce federal law prohibiting, both in criminal and civil court.
“In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the Department’s finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions,” by considering the seriousness of the crime and its impact on the community, Sessions wrote in a one-page memo to the nation’s federal prosecutors,” Sessions wrote in the memo, according to the AP.
During his floor speech Thursday after the announcement, Gardner said Sessions decision was a complete reversal of “what many of us on the Hill were told before the confirmation, what we continued to believe the last year and without any notification, conversation or dialogue with Congress. Completely reversed.”
Gardner said, “perhaps the Department of Justice didn’t think this was going to be a big deal. I understand Jeff Sessions opposition to marijuana, of legalization of marijuana, I opposed the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. But this is about a decision by the state of Colorado and we were told that states’ rights would be protected.”
Gardner said they were told that by both Sessions when he was a nominee and by candidate Donald Trump. Gardner highlighted Trump’s response in Colorado to a question about whether he would use federal authority to shut down sales of legal marijuana, in which he said he wouldn’t.
“Then-candidate Trump said ‘It’s up to the states absolutely,’” Gardner said. “That was then-candidate Trump’s position. I would like to know from the Attorney General what has changed. What has changed President Trump’s mind that the Cole Memorandum would be reversed and rescinded. What has changed the President’s mind? Why is Donald Trump thinking differently today about what he promised the people of Colorado in 2016? The reversed course today, what changed?”
Gardner said the reversal of the Cole memo means business operating legally in accordance to states’ laws are “operating now under a cloud of uncertainty.”
He said “thousands of jobs (are) at risk, millions of dollars in revenue and certainly the question of constitutional states’ rights, very much at the core of this discussion.”
Gardner said, “I believe what happened today was a trampling of Colorado’s rights, it’s voters and, sure this was a heavily debated issue, something that I’ve already said I opposed. But the people of Colorado spoke. And they spoke loudly. And I believe if the question was asked today, they would have even more support for the decision they made back several years ago. I agree with President Trump that this decision should be left up to the people of Colorado and other states and I call on Attorney General Sessions why President Trump was wrong in 2016 and what changed their minds.”
Gardner also called on Sessions to reverse his decision to withdraw the Cole memo and re-implement it.
“Until that happens I think that I am obligated by the people of Colorado to take all steps necessary to protect the state of Colorado,” Gardner said. “And their rights. And that’s why I will be putting today a hold on every single nomination from the Department of Justice until Attorney General Jeff Sessions lives up to the commitment he made to me in my pre-confirmation meeting with him. The conversation we had that was specifically about this issue of states’ rights in Colorado. Until he lives up to that commitment I will be holding all nominations for the Department of Justice. The people of Colorado deserve answers. The people of Colorado deserve their will to be respected.”