Political leaders in Oregon and Washington are weighing in on the move by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to roll back an Obama-era policy on how federal marijuana laws would be enforced.
In a memo issued by the Department of Justice Thursday, Sessions rescinded the so-called “Cole Memo,” the policy announced in 2013 that stated the federal government would not stand in the way of states that legalize marijuana use as long as those states kept it from going to other states where the drug remained illegal and out of the hands of minors.
The move was met with quick opposition from many lawmakers from Oregon and Washington, where medicinal and recreational use of marijuana is legal and big business.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown said she was “deeply concerned” with the change, while Washington Governor Jay Inslee called the move a “mistake” and said Washington would vigorously defend the state's laws against federal infringement.
Representative Earl Blumenauer was quick to rebuke session's decision, adding that while it's not welcome news, people shouldn't panic. He also said this may, in fact, bring about larger change and clarity benefiting the marijuana industry.
"I think that Mr. Sessions is on the losing side of history. He's at variance with where the overwhelming majority of people in both parties are and the stated policy of the president,” Blumenauer said Thursday. “So, I really think that we’re going to… the extent to which he monkeys around with it, this might be the catalyst that allows us to resolve this once and for all in a way that the American public wants.”
Senator Ron Wyden called the move a “broken promise” from the administration of President Donald Trump, adding that it reflected a double-standard in terms of respecting states’ rights.
“Trump promised to let states set their own marijuana policies. Now he's breaking that promise so Jeff Sessions can pursue his extremist anti-marijuana crusade,” Wyden said in a statement. “Once again the Trump administration is doubling down on protecting states’ rights only when they believe the state is right.”
Senator Jeff Merkley also questioned decision, calling it “destructive” and “a huge step backwards.”
"There is nothing to be gained from going back to an era when federal resources were wasted prosecuting nonviolent cannabis crimes. This decision will create massive uncertainty, hurt local businesses and tax revenue, and harm public safety by driving cannabis activity back into the more dangerous black market,” he said. “The Justice Department should immediately reverse this misguided decision and honor Trump's campaign commitment, and I will keep fighting to make this happen."
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum noted the state took in $60 million in marijuana taxes in 2017 and that she will work with Oregon’s U.S. Attorney to make sure the industry thrives in Oregon.
“I value my working relationship with Oregon U.S. Attorney-nominee Bill Williams and I look forward to working with his office,” she said in a release. “States up and down the West Coast, and beyond, have spoken. This is an industry that Oregonians have chosen-and one I will do everything within my legal authority to protect."
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