Tag Archives: cole memo

DoJ Task Force Moves to Review Federal Cannabis Policy

By Aaron G. Biros
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In a memo sent throughout the Department of Justice on April 5th, attorney general Jeff Sessions outlines the establishment of the Department’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. That task force, largely focused on violent crime, is supposed to find ways that federal prosecutors can more effectively reduce illegal immigration, violent crimes and gun violence.

The task force is made up of subcommittees, according to the memo, and one of them is focused on reviewing federal cannabis policy. “Task Force subcommittees will also undertake a review of existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana to ensure consistency with the Department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with Administration goals and priorities,” the memo reads. “Another subcommittee will explore our use of asset forfeiture and make recommendations on any improvements needed to legal authorities, policies, and training to most effectively attack the financial infrastructure of criminal organizations.” Those existing policies that Sessions refers to in the memo could very well be the 2013 Cole Memorandum, an Obama administration decree that essentially set up a framework for states with legal cannabis laws to avoid federal enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act.

In the past, Sessions has said he thinks the Cole Memo is valid, but remains skeptical of medical cannabis. In the last several months, comments made by Sessions and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have sparked outrage and growing fears among stakeholders in the cannabis industry, including major business players and state lawmakers. As a general feeling of uncertainty surrounding federal cannabis policy grows, many are looking for a safe haven, which could mean looking to markets outside of the U.S., like Canada, for example.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Washington State’s former Attorney General Rob McKenna, Washington State’s former Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Moran, and Maryland’s former Chief Deputy Attorney General Kay Winfree recently went on the record identifying the BioTrack THC traceability system as fully compliant with the Cole Memo. “The key to meeting the requirements of the Cole Memorandum is ‘both the existence of a strong and effective state regulatory system, and an operation’s compliance with that system’,” says the former attorney general and chief deputy attorneys general in a press release. “As described above, Washington State has a robust, comprehensive regulatory scheme that controls the entire marijuana supply chain.

The email sent to Colorado prosecutor Michael Melito

The flagship component of this regulatory scheme is the WSLCB’s seed to sale inventory system, the BioTrackTHC Traceability System.” Those commendations from a former attorney general could provide some solace to business operating with the seed-to-sale traceability software.

Still though, worries in the industry are fueled by speculation and a general lack of clarity from the Trump Administration and the Department of Justice. In an email obtained by an open records request and first reported by the International Business Times, a DEA supervisor asked a Colorado prosecutor in the state attorney general’s office about a number of cannabis-related prosecutions. The DEA supervisor asked for the state docket numbers of a handful of cases, including one involving cannabis being shipped out of state, according to The Denver Post. “Some of our intel people are trying to track down info regarding some of DEA’s better marijuana investigations for the new administration,” reads the email. “Hopefully it will lead to some positive changes.” So far, only speculations have emerged pertaining to its significance or lack thereof and what this could possibly mean for the future of federal cannabis policy.

AG Sessions: Cole Memo is Valid, But Skeptical of Medical Cannabis

By Aaron G. Biros
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Answering questions following a speech in Richmond, Virginia, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told reporters he thinks the Cole Memo is a valid way to deal with state cannabis laws and said medical cannabis is “hyped, maybe too much.” According to a MassRoots blog post by Tom Angell, Sessions spoke yesterday regarding cannabis, addressing it as he tip-toed around his previous statements, like calling cannabis use unhealthy or the infamous “Good people don’t smoke marijuana” line.

This time around, Sessions’ words on legal cannabis were more carefully chosen. “The Cole Memorandum set up some policies under President Obama’s Department of Justice about how cases should be selected in those states and what would be appropriate for federal prosecution, much of which I think is valid,” Sessions told reporters. The Cole Memo essentially set up a framework for states with legal cannabis laws to avoid federal enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act.

AG Jeff Sessions (left), next to Eric Holder (right), who was the US Attorney General from 2009 to 2015 under Obama and when the Cole Memo was issued. Image: Ryan J. Reilly, Flickr

These comments do fall in line with some of his previous statements, like suggesting he wants to uphold federal law. During the speech in Richmond, Sessions denied any possibility that cannabis could be a solution to the opioid crisis. “I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store,” says Sessions. “And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.” These statements echo much of what White House press secretary Sean Spicer said weeks ago, citing the opioid crisis as possibly linked to recreational cannabis consumption.

Sessions admitted to reporters that he acknowledges the benefits of medical cannabis, but says he is still skeptical of the idea, saying it has been overhyped. “It’s possible that some dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial,” says Sessions. “But if you ever just smoke marijuana, for example, where you have no idea how much THC you’re getting it’s probably not a good way to administer a medicinal amount- so, forgive me if I’m a bit dubious about that.” Sessions pontificating the medical efficacy of delivery methods for cannabinoids could suggest he is trying to familiarize himself more with the science behind medical cannabis.

According to a Politico article, Sessions privately told senators that he would respect states’ rights on the issue and uphold Obama-era policies, perhaps referring to the Cole Memo. While Sessions’ most recent remarks could signal a less aggressive approach toward legal cannabis, he still makes his position clear as a Drug War stalwart. “Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life,” Says Sessions.

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Emerging Cannabis Markets: The California Gold Rush

By Aaron G. Biros
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California has enjoyed legal medical marijuana for almost two decades, giving the state one of the greatest head starts in the industry. States like Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have since legalized recreational use for adults and passed legislation providing for state regulation of the industry.

For the past two decades, California’s medical marijuana market lacked strict, enforceable regulations, allowing for a black-market-mentality to remain prevalent.

However, that could all change with a 2016 ballot initiative that would legalize recreational use for adults along with more regulations for medical marijuana. I have noticed a schism developing in the cannabis industry, with some clamoring for more regulations to ensure safety and traceability, and others fearing over-regulation and big business involvement.

In the interest of advancing legalization efforts nationwide with mainstream acceptance, I think regulations that address traceability, testing, and safety are important to jettison the cannabis industry into a legitimate spotlight.

Since Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memorandum on Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement, known as the Cole Memo, in 2013 on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice, federal priorities have moved away from clashing with legal state marijuana markets, giving a sense of security to those established in the industry. California is the world’s eighth largest economy, just behind Brazil with a GDP of more than $2 trillion, and the cannabis industry can benefit greatly from the passing of the 2016 ballot initiative.

Colloquially known as the “Wolf of Weed Street”, Jason Spatafora, founder of MarijuanaStocks.com and CEO of FBEC Worldwide, Inc. believes that the marijuana market in California could be on par with the tech boom. “Previously, California’s medical marijuana laws might as well have been recreational, but as the state introduces new legislation we will see heavy expansion with companies getting into the recreational market, leading to increasing growth and production, which requires ancillary businesses to support that growth,” he says.

“It is not just the private market that will benefit, the public sector will soon be on par with Colorado when tax revenue begins to grow,” says Spatafora. “California is the most populated state in the country, [and] new legislation will really change the landscape of the cannabis market.”

Matt Karnes, founder and managing partner of GreenWave Advisors, LLC, believes that while implementation of new rules would not go into effect until 2018, the process will be facilitated by existing infrastructure expected to be established for medical marijuana. “We are conservative in our estimates for 2016 and expect that California’s legal medical marijuana market will grow 15% to approximately $2 billion from the 2015 estimate of $1.8 billion,” says Karnes.

According to Karnes’ figures, we can expect both markets to grow considerably over the next five years, leading to a $7.61 billion total marijuana industry in California by 2020.