Sessions Rescinds Cole Memo, Authorizes Expanded Federal Cannabis Enforcement

On Thursday afternoon, as expected, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a one-page memo to all United States Attorneys rescinding the “Cole Memo” issued during the Obama Administration. The memo recognized that cannabis was still illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, but allowed federal prosecutors to focus their resources elsewhere, so long as states did not threaten other federal priorities, such as preventing the distribution of the drug to minors and targeting cartels.

In the newly released memo, Attorney General Sessions states that U.S. attorneys, when deciding which cannabis activities to prosecute under federal law, should follow “well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions.”  The memo did not go as far as some advocates had feared in directing or advocating more cannabis prosecutions; however, it is exceedingly unclear how this will play out at the state level.

Xavier Becerra, California’s Attorney General, as well as the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) Chief, Lori Ajax, both issued statements in response to the rescission that California would defend Proposition 64 and continue to implement California’s cannabis law as expressed by the will of the voters.  Meanwhile, implementation of the new cannabis licensing programs effective January 1, 2018, continued with the BCC announcing that over four hundred temporary licenses had been issued by the Bureau and over 1,800 applications had been submitted as of January 2, 2018.  The California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Food and Agriculture are also issuing temporary licenses; however, no publicly available data has been released to date.