Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent decision to rescind a memo which addressed legal disparities between state and federal cannabis policies has generated concern among cannabis industry leaders and government officials in Massachusetts and around the country.
Known as the “Cole Memo,” this memo was developed in 2013 under the Obama administration and former Attorney General James Cole. The Cole Memo was developed as individual states began to legalize cannabis even though cannabis remained illegal at the federal level. The Cole Memo strongly encouraged federal prosecutors to take a hands-off approach and to only become involved if they felt a matter regarding cannabis threatened federal priorities and was not being sufficiently handled at the state level. These federal priorities include protecting minors, preventing drug cartels from obtaining cannabis, and reducing gun violence associated with drug trafficking.
Session’s decision to rescind the Cole Memo and to encourage federal prosecutors to decide on a more individual basis the resources they want to put in to enforcing federal cannabis policies has created a sense of uncertainty. This is true especially in states such as Massachusetts where legalized cannabis is relatively new. This sense of unease was heightened in Massachusetts as Massachusett’s top federal prosecutor, U.S Attorney Andrew Lelling, confirmed he would comply with federal regulations regarding cannabis on a case by case basis.
In response, national and state government officials such as Governor Baker, Attorney General Maura Healy, and State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg have spoken out against Sessions, calling for federal attention to be directed towards the opioid crisis instead and citing the economic opportunities that the cannabis industry provides. All three officials noted their support for and confidence in the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC). The CCC has stated that operations will proceed according to schedule to ensure a retail market will be set to open in Massachusetts in July. The CCC will hold public hearings in February regarding the 107 pages of draft regulations for the Massachusetts cannabis industry that they have developed thus far.
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