President Trump Pledges to Protect State Marijuana Rights, Is Federal Bill Next?

May 14, 2018
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In Wake of Cole Memo Recission, President Trump Pledges to Protect State Marijuana Rights

Should New Jersey legalize recreational marijuana, the federal government will not interfere. At least that’s what President Donald Trump is currently promising.

Trump Pledges to Protect State Marijuana Rights

Photo courtesy of Brandon Mowinkel (Unsplash.com)

The federal government’s stance on state-level cannabis legalization has been uncertain in the wake of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ rescission of the so-called Cole Memo. Under Sessions, the Department of Justice (DOJ) reverted away from the lenient federal enforcement policy set forth under President Barack Obama and re-established prior policy that instructs federal prosecutors in cannabis-legal states to use certain criteria and their discretion in deciding how aggressively to enforce federal law prohibiting cannabis operations.

While the DOJ has not yet ramped up enforcement against legal cannabis businesses, Sessions’ outward hostility toward marijuana certainly rattled the growing cannabis industry. The rescission of the Cole Memo also angered politicians from states like Colorado and Oregon, where cannabis has been successfully legalized. In January, Republican Senator Cory Gardner from Colorado stated that he would block all of President Donald Trump’s Justice Department nominees, prompting a standoff over legalized cannabis.

On April 13, 2018, Sen. Gardner announced that he had reached an oral agreement with President Trump and would no longer block his DOJ nominations:

Late Wednesday, I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry . . . Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all. Because of these commitments, I have informed the Administration that I will be lifting my remaining holds on Department of Justice nominees.

A White House official separately confirmed the deal. President Trump “does respect Colorado’s right to decide for themselves how to best approach this issue,” White House legislative affairs director Marc Short stated. 

According to the Washington Post, bipartisan legislation is in the works to solidify the President’s assurances that the federal government won’t interfere with states that have voted to legalize marijuana. “My colleagues and I are continuing to work diligently on a bipartisan legislative solution that can pass Congress and head to the President’s desk to deliver on his campaign position,” Gardner said.

The prospect of federal legislation intended to ease the tension between state and federal cannabis law is good news. However, despite these positive developments, it is important to highlight that marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, and the commercial growth, distribution, and sale of cannabis is still a federal crime.

If you have any questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Dan McKillop, at 201-806-3364.

This article is a part of a series pertaining to cannabis legalization in New Jersey and the United States at large. Prior articles in this series are below:

Disclaimer: Possession, use, distribution, and/or sale of cannabis is a Federal crime and is subject to related Federal policy. Legal advice provided by Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC is designed to counsel clients regarding the validity, scope, meaning, and application of existing and/or proposed cannabis law. Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC will not provide assistance in circumventing Federal or state cannabis law or policy, and advice provided by our office should not be construed as such.