Sessions’ Threat to Legal Marijuana: What it Means for You

What to expect on your first visit to a dispensary

If you’ve tuned in to any news source recently you’ve probably heard about the recent move by Jeff Sessions (US Attorney General) to rescind the Cole Memo. The Cole Memo, which stated that individual states have the right to regulate marijuana as they see fit, was a memorandum released in 2013 under the Obama administration by then US Attorney General James Cole.

To put it simply, what the Cole Memo said was that the federal government would not interfere with states that have legalized marijuana, regardless that it is still a Schedule 1 drug under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. Current AG Sessions has rescinded that memo, and caused a ripple of outrage and fear among the many Americans who have voted for or partaken in marijuana either recreationally or medically.

So what does this mean for medical and recreational users in Washington state? We’re here to help clear up many of the questions and concerns we’ve heard in the dispensary since the statement was released.

First and foremost, we should tell you that we are operating business as usual. Be assured we will be here for you and continue to carry the products you love, and need, with the same friendly faces you recognize. Mary Jane’s House of Grass is a medically endorsed store. Should recreational use come under attack, we intend to hold our ground as a medical shop.

The Facts

  • Marijuana remains a federally illegal substance under the Federally Controlled Substances Act.
  • Marijuana is legal for use by adults over 21  in Washington state.
  • The memo released by Jeff Sessions IS NOT LAW. It is guidance for state Attorney Generals and prosecutors.
  • Sessions’ new memo does not explicitly set forth how prosecutors should treat medical marijuana.
  • President Trump has neither endorsed, nor spoken against, recreational cannabis.
  • Congress has, since 2014, essentially codified the Cole Memo in each of its continuing spending resolutions, forbidding DOJ from spending tax dollars to prosecute individuals acting in accordance with state law. Those decisions were not rescinded with the Sessions memo.
  • Currently twenty-nine states allow the use of medical marijuana and eight, including the entire West Coast and the District of Columbia, allow recreational use. Which means that more than half of America has legal marijuana laws that were voted for by the American people.
  • Governor Jay Inslee (WA) has come to the defense of the cannabis industry in Washington, and has issued the following statement:

“In Washington state we have put in place a system that adheres to what we pledged to the people of Washington and the federal government; it’s well regulated, keeps criminal elements out, keeps pot out of the hands of kids and tracks it all carefully enough to clamp down on cross-border leakage. We are going to keep doing that and overseeing the well-regulated market that Washington voters approved.

“Make no mistake: As we have told the Department of Justice ever since I-502 was passed in 2012, we will vigorously defend our state’s laws against undue federal infringement.”

Other leaders in legalized states have come forward to oppose the memo. Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon, another legal recreational state, said, “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.”

Colorado Senator Cory Gardner tweeted his response stating that the issue “must be left up to the states.” He went further to threaten to hold up the confirmation of DOJ nominees.

The feeling and pulse in the industry is certainly charged, but with the support of our state government, and the support of other legalized states, we hope to prevail over those who are opposed to and/or uneducated about marijuana legalization. The end of prohibition was never expected to be easy, but we intend to keep up the fight. We remain hopeful and will continue to carry on.

Is The Cannabis Industry Getting Ahead of Itself?

sunshine farms cannabis vancouver mother plants

With just a few years of legal recreational cannabis under Washington’s belt, it seems the cannabis industry may be moving faster than the law makers can handle. Cannabis consumers have waited a long time for legalization and our excitement shows. Simple legalization isn’t enough, we want more. We want cannabis friendly cafes, clubs, parks, bars and restaurants. Our favorite plant has so much to offer, but for all our desires, there are laws and regulations blocking us from our ultimate end goal.

A recent article from the LA Times indicates the direction the cannabis industry would like to go – toward expanded legalization and “Amsterdam style” smoking clubs and cafes. It also speaks to the reluctance the new administration is instilling in the industry, and state level government alike. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has eluded to a tightening of the fist, so to speak, on cannabis and decriminalization.

Colorado state lawmakers recently removed language from a bill that would allow cannabis smoking clubs to exist legally. This was a well-supported law. It had bi-partisan support in the house as well as industry support. Currently there are several private cannabis clubs in operation under fringe laws and zoning regulations, operating in that all-too-familiar grey area the industry is trying to move past. However, they’ve been subject to random raids by local law enforcement.

The bottom line is that the cannabis industry is heading in one direction, or trying to, and the government isn’t ready for it to go there. Yet.

As cannabis consumers push the boundaries of legalization more and more pressure will be put on lawmakers to expand cannabis laws and regulations. Unfortunately those changes could be bogged down in red tape for years just waiting for government officials to catch up with what the cannabis industry already knows; weed is enjoyable and can be extremely beneficial to many thousands of people.

“We as an industry have already come so far. I look back at the industry in Washington when legalization was fresh,” says Amy, an owner of Mary Jane’s House of Grass, a dispensary in Vancouver, Washington. “No signs were allowed on recreational storefronts at all. We weren’t even allowed to give out business cards!” It took those on the forefront of the movement to bring these faults to the attention of the lawmakers and work with them to come to an understanding. “After all,” says Amy, “many of them are business owners, too. We had to make them understand how difficult it would be to have business interactions without being able to exchange information freely and easily, and advertise our existence.”

Laws have loosened in Washington State since. They now allow rec shops to install signage on the outside of their building, within size limits, but they still don’t allow cannabis clubs or cafes like the consumers would like. The industry is teetering on a precipice, waiting to see what the new administration does. Will it crack down? Will it turn the other cheek and let states operate as they see fit? Will they legalize across the board? The industry is waiting on baited breath to find out.

In this post-prohibition landscape it’s difficult to navigate the laws, regulations and rules governing our favorite plant. But we have to remain hopeful that the government will catch up with the consumers’ desires. It’s in our hands as the cannabis community, and the voters who installed our governing officers, to make it known to the lawmakers what we want.

“It’s about education,” says Amy. “We are working hard to de-stigmatize this plant and re-educate people about it. There’s a lot of false information surrounding it, and the entire industry and community at large could benefit greatly from its complete legalization.” She’s right. Washington State has made over $401 million in marijuana tax revenue to date. And that number continues to grow as the stigmas subside and consumers find their way to dispensaries and shops to see what the new era of cannabis consumption looks like.

Could the feds really turn away from such a cash crop? That remains to be seen. Cannabis consumers and supporters need to make their wishes known by contacting their representatives, voting at every opportunity, and demonstrating their support with their buying power. Support for your local dispensary is support for legalization.