Following a face-to-face meeting with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said he doesn’t think a federal crackdown is imminent for his state or others that have legalized cannabis.
Hickenlooper shared some details of his meeting this week with Sessions in Washington, D.C. during an appearance Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press Daily” with host Chuck Todd and in a follow-up interview Thursday with The Cannabist.
“We wanted to understand his frame of reference on both cannabis and immigration,” although cannabis dominated the conversation, Hickenlooper told The Cannabist.
Wednesday’s hour-long meeting was held at the request of the Colorado governor, who was traveling to D.C. for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s 9th Annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner.
Hickenlooper was among four governors from legal marijuana states who recently wrote an open letter to Sessions and the Secretary of the Treasury asking they engage with them before “embarking on any changes to regulatory and enforcement systems.” Sessions has, in recent months, reiterated his opposition to marijuana legalization but has not issued a formal enforcement policy.
Sessions was receptive to keeping the lines of communication open, Hickenlooper said, adding that a policy position appears to be in the works.
“He’s obviously reviewing the Cole (Memo),” Hickenlooper said. “(They’re working on) a version of that that makes sense for this administration. We’ll have to see how far they go.”
Hickenlooper described Sessions as “direct,” “straight-forward” and “honest.” And while the attorney general “couldn’t have been more emphatic” about legalization being a bad idea, he also understood that Colorado’s marijuana regulations came to be because of the will of the voters.
As such, Hickenlooper said, he doesn’t believe Sessions will come down on legal marijuana states from an enforcement standpoint.
The Colorado governor extended an invite for the attorney general to get a first-hand look at his state’s regulated marijuana industry. To that, Sessions simply smiled, Hickenlooper said.
In Wednesday’s “MTP Daily” appearance, Hickenlooper said the former Alabama senator and prosecutor made clear his anti-drug stance and his concern about a trend toward more drug consumption.
“But he certainly listened,” Hickenlooper said. “We (in Colorado) haven’t seen a big spike in consumption. We haven’t seen a significant increase in teenage consumption or any of these things.
“And he certainly was very direct and clearly said they’ve got a lot of priorities. And, at one point, he said, ‘Well you haven’t seen us cracking down, have you?’ I said, ‘No.'”
Hickenlooper said he interpreted that to mean the drug enforcement priorities for the Department of Justice rest with substances such as heroin, methamphetamines and cocaine.
“It doesn’t mean that he feels in any way that he should be cutting any slack to marijuana,” he told Todd.
Hickenlooper said he described Colorado’s approach to marijuana legalization, and how the state is accumulating data and using tax revenue to support law enforcement efforts against illegal activity.
“We’re spending $6 (million) to $10 million to support the U.S. attorney (in Colorado) but also local law enforcement to make sure that if there are illegal grows in Colorado and that marijuana is going out of state, we’re going to nail them; we’re going to prosecute them,” he said.
State legislation was introduced this session to fund law enforcement and prosecution costs to clamp down on gray- and black-market marijuana activity and to impose plant count limits so as to help prevent diversion out of state or to the black market. The governor is expected to sign both bills.
Hickenlooper also seemingly proved influential in state lawmakers’ moves to scrap proposals that would have broadened Colorado’s regulations and allow for social pot clubs and marijuana home delivery.
Hickenlooper told The Cannabist last month that if he were to speak with Sessions, he would explain his opposition to legalization and his oath to the state constitution. He said he would argue that “the country has potential benefit to be able to see this experiment through to a natural conclusion. Let’s go a couple more years and see and get more data and really see, ‘Are we worse off or better off than we were before?'”
Hickenlooper told Todd that he made those points and others to Sessions.
“He certainly understood that we’re trying to pull together data, and he’s a pretty strong supporter of states being laboratories of democracy,” Hickenlooper said. “He is very clear. He is anti-drugs in all forms and he’s not going to, in any way, encourage anyone to start a marijuana business to think it’s a great idea to do or even safe to do so.”
“That being said,” Hickenlooper continued, “he didn’t give me any reason to think that he is going to come down and suddenly try to put everyone out of business.”