Statements made by parties in the Trump administration have caused a series of repercussions. Most specifically, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been the primary cause of concern. A long time pot opponent, he has been known to say things like “good people don’t smoke marijuana” and he once spoke out against the the Ku Klux Klan for the specific reason that members smoked pot. Despite being surrounded by conservatives that are prepared to allow states to create their own marijuana laws without interference, Sessions has mentioned contemplating a crackdown on the marijuana industry, in particular the states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
The Open Letters to Sessions
Sessions’ comments have caused a series of new measures to be written and presented to the House and Senate that would declassify the plant so that it could be regulated like alcohol and cigarettes. In a more recent move, 11 Senators from the 8 states that have legal recreational marijuana sent an open letter to Jeff Sessions requesting that the Department of Justice uphold the current protocol when it comes to marijuana. On April 3, another open letter was sent to Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The open letter was signed by Gov. Bill Walker of Alaska, Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington and it requested that Sessions talk to the Governors before taking any steps to crack down on the plant.
Upholding the Cole Memo
It asks that the Cole Memo, named after Deputy Attorney General James Cole, be upheld and the suggestions from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) be followed. The Cole Memo was created during the Obama Administration and it advised federal authorities on how to proceed with marijuana laws. It advises that the federal law be deferred to state law when it comes to marijuana. The Cole Memo protected states’ rights to create and uphold their own marijuana laws without federal interference.
The governors wrote in the letter, “Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences. Changes that hurt the regulated market would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states.”
The FinCEN Guidelines
FinCEN defines the guidelines for how financial institutions can serve marijuana businesses. Unfortunately, due to the fact that marijuana remains illegal on a federal level, banks and financial institutions are not comfortable serving marijuana related businesses. This leaves those businesses very vulnerable as they are forced to work with a lot of cash that could invite violent crime to the business. It also makes paying taxes complicated as they also need to be paid in cash.
8 states have legalized medical marijuana which amounts to 1/5 of the country. Many other states are currently working on bills that would also legalize the plant. The momentum of marijuana reform is unrelenting and all states with legal marijuana are just hoping to be able to continue developing the industry. The current bills being proposed and the open letter are all ways to keep the industry protected.