Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, after meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week in Washington, says that he doesn’t believe a federal crackdown on legal marijuana is on the way, adding that Sessions called the Obama administration’s guidance on marijuana “not too far from good policy.”
“The meeting was very productive, and overall it was very good,” Jacque Montgomery, press secretary for the Democratic governor, told HuffPost. Montgomery said that Sessions spent about an hour with Hickenlooper, and they discussed the state’s successful marijuana regulation, its collection of data on usage, what the state has learned since the first legal pot shops opened in 2014, how the state has updated the law, and how it deals with the grey and black markets that continue.
Sessions also addressed the Obama-era marijuana guidance, known as the Cole memo, with the governor.
“Sessions said he is reviewing the Cole memo and said that ‘it is not too far from good policy,’” Montgomery said. “But we do expect some revisions, so we’ll wait to hear back on that.”
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sessions’ meeting with Hickenlooper.
The remarks related by Hickenlooper are the clearest yet from Sessions ― a vocal opponent of marijuana use ― that a federal crackdown isn’t imminent. Last month, Sessions said the Cole memo is “valid.”
Obama’s Justice Department allowed states to forge their own way on marijuana policy by issuing the Cole memo guidance in 2013. It outlines how states can avoid running afoul of federal enforcement priorities on marijuana. But this guidance is not law, and it could be reversed by the Trump administration.
And though as a candidate Trump said he was in favor of allowing medical marijuana, adding that he would respect states’ rights on the issue, his selection of an anti-marijuana hard-liner as attorney general was deeply troubling to those who favor progressive drug laws.
Hickenlooper told host Chuck Todd on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press Daily” on Wednesday that Sessions “feels strongly” that “more people smoking more marijuana or doing any kind of drugs is unhealthy for the country.” But Hickenlooper also noted that, in the meeting, Sessions did listen when he explained that there hasn’t been a “big spike in consumption” nor a “significant increase in teenage consumption” since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana three years ago.
Hickenlooper was seeking clarity from Sessions on the position of the federal government and also collaboration on whatever national policy may emerge.
At one point, Hickenlooper said, Sessions asked, “Well, you haven’t seen us cracking down have you?” Hickenlooper said he responded that he hadn’t, and he interpreted the rhetorical question as confirming that the Department of Justice has higher priorities than the legal and regulated marijuana market, such as enforcement of laws on heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine.
Hickenlooper said Sessions is “anti-drugs in all forms” and is not going to encourage anyone to start a marijuana business, but that he didn’t give him “any reason to think that he is going to come down and suddenly put everyone out of business.”
Marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, despite many states’ efforts to decriminalize much of its use over the past few years. Legal recreational marijuana has been approved in eight states and Washington, D.C., although the District of Columbia continues to ban sales. A total of 29 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance in the United States, and the trend of states bucking prohibition in favor of taxing and regulating the plant reflects a broad cultural shift toward greater acceptance of marijuana.
A February survey by Quinnipiac University found that 71 percent of U.S. voters want the federal government to respect state marijuana laws. In that survey, majorities of Republicans, Democrats, independents and every age group polled agreed the feds should not enforce prohibitionist laws on states that have legalized marijuana.
National support for marijuana legalization has risen dramatically in recent years, reaching historic highs in multiple polls. Medical marijuana in particular enjoys extraordinary support. A Quinnipiac poll this month found that 94 percent of Americans support allowing adults to use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it.