Jeff Sessions’ Marijuana War Faces A Foe In Washington State

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For nearly a year, I waited for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to accept the longstanding offer from me and Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee to have a conversation about federal priorities with respect to marijuana.

Unfortunately, we are still waiting. Sessions, on the other hand, has just repealed the Department of Justice’s guidance for U.S. attorneys regarding legalized marijuana.

Compare today to 2013, when less than three months after voters approved an initiative to legalize marijuana in our state, then-Attorney General Eric Holder met with the governor and myself.

Those conversations paid off. Seven months later, the Department of Justice produced the Cole Memorandum, detailing the federal government’s priorities with respect to marijuana. Washington state supports these priorities, which include keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors and organized crime, and from crossing state lines. The Cole Memorandum provided clear guidance for the states to improve their regulatory systems and allow businesses to develop.

That guidance is now gone.

I understand that a meeting will not resolve all our differences. I am not naïve, and do not expect to change Sessions’ animosity toward marijuana legalization. But I do believe face-to-face meetings are productive, especially on such critical issues.

Let me give you an example:

Last year, Sessions sent me and the governor  a lengthy letter that demonstrated a troubling ignorance regarding Washington’s marijuana laws and the legal framework we spent five years fine-tuning.

Citing a 2016 report, he criticized Washington state for failing to merge our medical and retail marijuana systems. There’s just one problem with his argument:  It’s not true. State lawmakers merged our medical marijuana industry with the state’s strict recreational system after the report was issued—and before Sessions sent his letter.

A meeting would have prevented this embarrassing criticism by the Attorney General of the United States.

Another far-reaching aspect of his guidance last week shouldn’t be overlooked. Sessions also rescinded  the lesser-known 2009 Ogden Memorandum that instructed federal prosecutors to deprioritize medical marijuana prosecutions.

This directly impacts the 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana. The Ogden Memorandum instructed federal prosecutors that individuals who use medical marijuana and those who distribute it should not face federal prosecution as long as they act according to state law. “For example,” the memo reads, “prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources.”

Sessions’ unfortunate decision to rescind the Ogden Memorandum brings an upcoming decision in Congress into sharper focus.

The Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment prohibits the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with state medical cannabis laws. Sessions is urging lawmakers not to renew the amendment, which is set to expire on January 19. Congress should ignore his recommendation during upcoming budget negotiations.

With his action last week, the attorney general created more questions than answers. In just three paragraphs, he wiped away nearly a decade of guidance from the Justice Department for how federal prosecutors should approach legal marijuana. Sessions called their hard work and thoughtful approach “unnecessary.”

The issue of marijuana legalization demands a conversation based on the facts. It is too important for veiled threats, miscommunication and uncertainty.

Let me tell you what is certain: I will defend the will of the voters in my state. I have filed 19 lawsuits against the Trump administration, so I have some experience in the courtroom with the federal government.

Five of those cases are over, and there are no more appeals. We are 5-0.

If Sessions tries to stop my state from moving forward with marijuana legalization, he can expect another legal fight.

He will find us ready.

Attorney General Sessions, my invitation to meet face-to-face is still open.