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New Congressional Bill Would Enshrine Rescinded Marijuana Memo Into Federal Law



A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers on Friday filed legislation that, if enacted, would essentially revive the Obama-era marijuana enforcement memo that was rescinded by then-U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year.

The full text of the Sensible Enforcement of Cannabis Act, sponsored by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) and six other House members, is not yet online. But Correa’s communications director told Marijuana Moment in an email that the legislation is “identical to the bill we introduced last session.”

That legislation, which had the same title as the new proposal, specifies that the attorney general “shall not prosecute for any conduct that concerns marihuana for medicinal or recreational use and is authorized by the laws of the State involved.”

The bill also carves out several exceptions for areas where the Justice Department could continue to enforce federal anti-cannabis laws, such as:

  • Distribution of marijuana to minors.
  • Revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to  criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels.
  • Diversion of marijuana from States where it is legal under State law in some form to other States.
  • State-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity.
  • Violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana.
  • Drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use.
  • The growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands.
  • Marijuana possession or use on Federal property.

Those provisions closely mirror the so-called Cole Memo that was issued by the Obama Justice Department in 2013 to essentially direct federal prosecutors to respect state marijuana laws by not interfering with their implementation except in certain circumstances.

But Sessions formally revoked the guidance last January, a move that generated broad bipartisan pushback in Congress.

“The Department’s ill-conceived decision adversely affects California and other states that in ‘good faith’ implemented regulatory frameworks that relied on the memo,” Correa said in remarks inserted into the Congressional Record on Friday. “The repeal of the Cole Memo contravenes the will of the American public. Furthermore, this decision will negatively affect numerous Americans who utilize cannabis for medical purposes.”

“We need to provide consumers, patients, businesses, and regulators with certainty.”

Lawmakers that have so far signed onto Correa’s new proposal include Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Don Young (R-AK), Dina Titus (D-NV), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Salud Carbajal (D-CA). It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

The version that Correa filed last Congress did not receive a hearing or a vote.

The new legislation is the fourth standalone cannabis bill that has been filed so far during the 116th Congress, which began last week.

One bill, H.R. 420, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and instead regulate cannabis like alcohol.

The other two pending House proposals concern access to medical cannabis.

No cannabis bills have yet been introduced in the Senate this year, though a staffer for Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) told Marijuana Moment that he would “soon” file comprehensive medical cannabis legislation.

New Congressional Cannabis Caucus Takes Shape

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.


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