While federal lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are pushing for legislation to reform marijuana laws, the executive branch of the government has given every indication of a coming crackdown on recreational marijuana, even in states where it’s now legal. The governors of the first four states to legalize pot are now asking the White House to respect their states’ voters and not return weed to the dark ages.
The governors of Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington sent a letter [PDF] on Monday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions — an outspoken critic of marijuana — and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, hoping to engage in a conversation before the federal government makes any changes to current regulatory and enforcement systems.
In 2013, the Department of Justice issued what’s known as the Cole Memorandum [PDF], which effectively tells states that legalized pot may be okay, so long as it’s heavily regulated — keep it away from minors; keep drugs and organized crime out of it — and doesn’t cross state lines.
In their letter, the governors say the compromise reached with the Cole Memo has been indispensable in helping those states set up the framework for state regulatory programs that focus on public safety and health protections.
The group acknowledges that there are some in the administration who have concerns about marijuana, and hey — they get it, and can sympathize, as they had some qualms before their states adopted their current laws, too.
But the governors go on to say they’re committed to “implementing the will” of their citizens, and have worked together with their state legislatures to put in place “robust regulatory structures that prioritize public health and public safety, reduce inequitable incarceration and expand our economies.”
Overhauling the Cole Memo will only lead to bad things, the governors write.
“Changes that hurt the regulated market would divert existing marijuana production to the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states,” they say.
The Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) followed up on the Cole Memo in 2014 with guidance for federally insured banks on how they can transact business with locally legal marijuana operations.
The governors say that doing away with the FinCEN guidance will mean financial institutions won’t be as willing to provide banking for marijuana-related businesses, which would force those in the marijuana industry to rely on cash. That would not only pose safety risks to the public,the governors write, but also to state regulators trying to enforce laws.
Together, the Cole Memo and FinCEN guidance “strike a reasonable balance” between allowing states to enact their own laws and the feds’ interest in “controlling some of the collateral consequences of legalization.”
The governors end by saying they’re ready to have further discussions about how those policies work in their states, and that they look forward to working with the administration in the future.