Michael Neville writes:

The White House, Washington D.C.
Copyright: pigprox / 123RF Stock Photo

On February 23, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated that the public may see “greater enforcement” of federal cannabis laws and that the Trump Administrations sees a “big difference” between medical cannabis and recreational cannabis. Mr. Spicer’s comments have understandably caused great concern throughout the cannabis industry, and a group of 11 U.S. Senators[1] recently sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions requesting that Mr. Sessions and the Department of Justice (DOJ) clarify the DOJ’s enforcement priorities. The Senators urged Mr. Sessions and the DOJ to immediately provide assurances to states and the cannabis industry that the DOJ will respect the ability of states to enforce both medical and recreational cannabis laws. The full letter can be read here.

The Senators requested Mr. Sessions and the DOJ to continue to adhere to the Cole Memorandum, which outlines federal cannabis enforcement priorities and provides that where states have “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana, . . . enforcement of state law by state and local law enforcement and regulatory bodies should remain the primary means of addressing marijuana-related activity.”[2] The full Cole Memorandum can be accessed here. Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.) also wrote his own letter to Mr. Sessions urging adherence to the Cole Memorandum.

There are currently 8 states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) and the District of Columbia that have passed laws allowing for the recreational use of cannabis, 28 states that have passed medical cannabis laws, and 21 states that have decriminalized the use of cannabis.

[1] Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

 [2] August 29, 2013 Cole Memorandum re “Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement,” available at the Justice Department website

Michael Neville is an associate in the Litigation Department of Fox Rothschild LLP, resident in the Chicago office.