Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. (Cliff Owen, Associated Press file)

“This is outrageous”: Politicians react to news that A.G. Sessions is rescinding the Cole Memo

Politicians from states where marijuana sales are legal released statements and took to Twitter Thursday morning to express their dismay at a report that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will rescind the Cole Memo.


Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a statement:

“Thirty states comprising more than two thirds of the American people have legalized marijuana in some form. The Cole memo got it right and was foundational in guiding states’ efforts to regulate the production and distribution of marijuana. Colorado has created a comprehensive regulatory system committed to supporting the will of our voters. We constantly evaluate and seek to strengthen our approach to regulation and enforcement. Our focus will continue to be the public health and public safety of our citizens. We are expanding efforts to eliminate the black market and keep marijuana out of the hands of minors and criminals. Today’s decision does not alter the strength of our resolve in those areas, nor does it change my constitutional responsibilities.”

Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner posted a Tweet blasting Sessions’ decision:

“This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation,” he posted on Twitter. “With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states. (President Donald Trump) had it right. This must be left up to the states.”

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet also went to Twitter to react:

Colorado congresswoman Diana DeGette, Chief Deputy Whip, said in a statement:

“This step could drag us back to the days of raids on legal dispensaries and people living in fear being jailed for using the medical marijuana they need. It could create a chilling effect on an industry that employs thousands of people in Colorado alone, where sales now top $1 billion per year. The federal government shouldn’t take punitive steps that undermine the will of our citizens expressed at the state level.”

Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter said in his statement that “Congress needs to take matters into its own hands”:

“Today’s decision by Attorney General Sessions rolls back the progress we’ve made to balance the laws of Colorado with the priorities of federal law enforcement. The Cole memo provided assurances to states like Colorado with marijuana use and a strict regulatory structure in place by allowing these states to proceed according to the will of their voters. While it did not relieve all uncertainty, especially for financial institutions, it was a step forward. Today’s announcement creates even greater uncertainty in the industry and shows a lack of respect for states’ rights.

“Congress needs to take matters into its own hands. I have been urging Congress to act on this issue since 2013, and I once again call on my colleagues to act immediately starting with passing my SAFE Banking Act which allows legitimate marijuana businesses access to banking services. Fixing the banking system will ensure a strong regulated environment for marijuana sales and continue to curtail the black market. We’ve come too far to backtrack on this issue now. It’s time to find a real solution that will keep our communities safe and respect the will of voters in the majority of states in our country.”

Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman said “Sessions needs to read the Commerce Clause… of the U.S. Constitution”:

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Denver is an “international model for how to do it right”:

The Colorado State Democrats tweeted:

Sal Pace, Pueblo County Commissioner and former Colorado House Democratic Leader issued a statement:

“Any move by the DOJ to reverse cannabis legalization enacted by citizens across the country will be opposed vigorously by a bipartisan national coalition of local elected officials. A reversal of the sovereign voice of the American public is an assault on the intellect of Americans, an assault on the fundamental tenants of democracy, and an attack on the Constitutional guarantee of states’ rights. That is why I am bringing together local elected officials across the country to demand that Congress act immediately to protect the voice of their constituents and allow states to determine their own fate. The American public has spoken loud and clear that states should have the right to determine their own fate on cannabis.

The same 165,000 residents who elected me, voted for Donald Trump and voted in favor of the legalization of marijuana. The citizens from this Trump backing county do not want this economic engine shut down, sending thousands of people to the unemployment line and costing our County government millions in tax revenues.”


Oregon Sen. Earl Blumenauer, co-sponsor of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment that protects medical marijuana states released a statement saying:

“This is outrageous. Going against the majority of Americans–including a majority of Republican voters–who want the federal government to stay out of the way is perhaps one of the stupidest decisions the Attorney General has made. One wonders if Trump was consulted–it is Jeff Sessions after all–because this would violate his campaign promise not to interfere with state marijuana laws. It’s time for anyone who cares about this issue to mobilize and push back strongly against this decision.”

Bluemenauer also questioned whether Sessions had talked with Trump about the policy change:

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, whose state also responded to Sessions saying his letter to them was based on flawed data released a statement:

“Trump promised to let states set their own marijuana policies. Now he’s breaking that promise so Jeff Sessions can pursue his extremist anti-marijuana crusade. Once again the Trump administration is doubling down on protecting states’ rights only when they believe the state is right. Opening the door to go after legal marijuana businesses ignores the will of the majority of Americans and marks yet another socially unjust and economically backward scheme from this administration. Any budget deal Congress considers in the coming days must build on current law to prevent the federal government from intruding in state-legal, voter-supported decisions.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued a statement:

“Reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will roll back federal marijuana policy are deeply concerning and disruptive to our state’s economy. Over 19,000 jobs have been created by the market Oregon worked carefully to build in good faith and in accordance with the Cole Memorandum. The federal government must keep its promise to states that relied on its guidance.

“States are the laboratories of democracy, where progressive policies are developed and implemented for the benefit of their people. Voters in Oregon were clear when they chose for Oregon to legalize the sale of marijuana and the federal government should not stand in the way of the will of Oregonians.

“My staff and state agencies are working to evaluate reports of the Attorney General’s decision and will fight to continue Oregon’s commitment to a safe and prosperous recreational marijuana market.”


California Sen. Kamala Harris — also the state’s former attorney general — weighed in:

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is also a front runner in the race to be the state’s next governor fired off an initial reaction on Twitter:

He then followed up with a full statement in which he said in part, “[Sessions’] position defies facts and logic, threatens the promise of a safe, stable, and legal regulatory framework being pursued by twenty-nine different states, and continues the Trump Administration’s cynical war on America’s largest state — and it’s people and progress …”

California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, co-sponsor of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment that protects medical marijuana states released a statement saying:

“The attorney general of the United States has just delivered an extravagant holiday gift to the drug cartels. By attacking the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly favor marijuana legalization, Jeff Sessions has shown a preference for allowing all commerce in marijuana to take place in the black market, which will inevitably bring the spike in violence he mistakenly attributes to marijuana itself. He is doing the bidding of an out-of-date law enforcement establishment that wants to wage a perpetual weed war and seize private citizens’ property in order to finance its backward ambitions.

“This is a profound misreading of the Constitution, which allows states, not the heavy-handed federal government, to determine such issues. How ironic that the attorney general has long championed states’ rights when it suits other parts of his agenda! More than that, by attacking the clear will of the American people, the attorney general contradicts President Trump’s campaign pledges to leave medical and recreational marijuana questions for the states to decide. By taking this benighted minority position, he actually places Republicans’ electoral fortunes in jeopardy.”

California Rep. Ted Lieu, whose state just started selling legal recreational marijuana Monday:

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a California representative, weighed in:

California Rep. Ro Khanna called prosecuting marijuana a “civil rights issue“:


Washington State’s Attorney General’s office pointed to AG Bob Ferguson and Governor Jay Inslee’s letter to Jeff Sessions in August, correcting what they perceived as misinformation Sessions was operating under:


Nevada Rep. Dina Titus reacted first on Twitter:

The founding member of the House Cannabis Caucus. ” later followed up with a full statement:

“This latest move from Attorney General Sessions and the Trump Administration is a direct attack on the State of Nevada, sovereign tribal governments, and the rights of people in states, tribes, and territories all across the United States. The decision to rescind the Cole and Wilkinson memos undermines Nevada’s $622 million dollar industry, threatens nearly $1 billion in new investments, and jeopardizes thousands of new jobs and more than $60 million dollars in tax revenue for the State. It also targets veterans using medical marijuana to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, and children with epilepsy, subjecting them to possible federal prosecution for seeking legal treatments for their ailments. Congress must immediately respond by passing permanent protections like the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act (H.R. 975 Rohrabacher-Blumenauer-Titus).”


Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who has filed legislation to reschedule cannabis as a Schedule III substance, weighed in with a statement:

Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department would no longer follow the guidance of the Cole Memorandum — a long-established, common-sense guideline instructing the federal government to crack down on dangerous drug crimes, rather than harmless medical marijuana patients. This disappointing and cruel decision is a huge step backward for states’ rights, for common-sense reform, and for the American people.

I have seen children, in my district and nationwide, who have been helped by medical marijuana when all other treatments have failed. Has AG Sessions seen a child with juvenile epilepsy? Has he seen a child have a seizure? I have. I’ve seen tears stream down a mother’s face as she cradled her daughter in her arms, watching her little girl’s eyes roll back in her head, her skin turning blue from lack of oxygen. I’ve also seen this same little girl smiling and laughing, playing sports and having friends — her epilepsy made manageable by medical marijuana.

Attorney General Sessions thinks she’s a felon. I think she’s a hero.

Not only does AG Sessions’ decision hurt millions of patients and families nationwide, it is out of step with the will of the American people — over 90% of whom support doctor-prescribed medical marijuana. It even flies in the face of President Trump, who expressed his support for medical marijuana and state-level decision-making during his campaign. For AG Sessions to disregard the Cole Memorandum is heartless and cold, and shows his desire to pursue an antiquated, disproven dogma instead of the will of the American people. He should focus his energies on prosecuting criminals, not patients.

Related: Rep. Matt Gaetz proposes appropriations amendment to provide safe harbor for medical cannabis research

The Mayor of Tallahassee and candidate for governor of Florida, Andrew Gillum said Sessions’ goal is to “put more young people & (sic) people of color behind bars for using a plant.”


Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who at congressional hearings has pressed the Department of Justice on its stance on marijuana:


“This reckless action by the DOJ disrupts the ability of states to enforce their own drug policies and puts our public health and safety at risk,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren in a statement.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who opposed the 2016 ballot question that legalized recreational marijuana, indicated he remained committed to implementing the state law and opposed the move by Sessions. “The administration believes this is the wrong decision and will review any potential impacts from any policy changes by the local U.S. attorney’s office,” Baker spokesman Brendan Moss said.

New Jersey

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who introduced the Marijuana Justice Act to Congress in August:


Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont released a statement:

“No, Attorney General Sessions. Marijuana is not the same as heroin. No one who has seriously studied the issue believes that marijuana should be classified as a Schedule 1 drug beside killer drugs like heroin. Quite the contrary. We should allow states the right to move toward the decriminalization of marijuana, not reverse the progress that has been made in recent years.”

New York

New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand posted a video to her Facebook page:

She also released a written statement:

“Attorney General Sessions’s reported decision is a direct attack on patients. Parents should be able to give their sick kids the medicine they need without having to fear that they will be prosecuted. Veterans should be able to come home from combat and use the medicine they need without having to fear they will be prosecuted. This is about public health, and it’s about reforming our broken criminal justice system that throws too many minorities in prison for completely nonviolent offenses. I urge my colleagues to join me in fighting this shortsighted decision and supporting my broadly bipartisan bill, the CARERS Act, to keep the federal government out of the way when doctors and patients decide that medical marijuana is the best treatment for them.”


Brian Schatz from Hawaii hinted at action:

Catch up on all The Cannabist’s previous coverage of the Cole Memo