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Colorado-led coalition formed to push back at feds on pot

Author: Kara Mason - February 1, 2018 - Updated: February 1, 2018

In this Dec. 15, 2017, file photo, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

If Attorney General Jeff Sessions opened up the Washington Times Wednesday he was bound to see a message from several Colorado leaders, and elected officials from across the country, on cannabis policy.

A new coalition, headed by Pueblo County Commissioner and former state legislator Sal Pace, took out a full page ad in the Washington Times for a letter outlining the confusion that has ensued since Sessions announced the Jan. 4 decision to rescind of the Cole Memo, which kept federal authorities at bay in states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

“Your decision also created uncertainty for our local governments by leaving federal enforcement decisions up to each individual U.S. attorney, resulting in what could be selective and unfair enforcement. Of greatest concern, however, is the sheer confusion felt by local officials who now face governing in a chaotic environment,” the letter said.

“While it may have been the intention to spark uncertainty for legal cannabis license holders across the nation, it also created significant confusion for local governments in thirty-one states and territories where they have comprehensive programs regulating the licensing, land-use, enforcement, and taxation of this industry.”

The group, called Leaders for Reform, also requested that a bipartisan and bicameral task force be created to “explore aligning federal and state cannabis laws.”

“While this task force is convening, we would request that the Department of Justice not initiate new enforcement actions in situations where operators are following state and local regulations. This would provide certainty to the basic operations of local governments across the country,” the letter said.

In case Sessions didn’t happen to pick up a copy of the Washington Times, the group also mailed him a copy of the letter, which included nearly 100 signatures from elected officials from 11 states.

On a call announcing the letter Wednesday, Pace said the task force would “allow for a healthy dialogue on how to address discrepancies (in state and federal law) and allow for greater direction for state and local communities on how to best move forward.”

Beyond the legal enforcement aspect, some pointed out how the Cole Memo was useful in other instances too, such as water. Mark Carmel, a board director for the Pueblo West Metropolitan District, said there’s confusion on using federal water for marijuana now. The Cole Memo said it couldn’t be done. But now?

Pace said that could potentially be a topic the suggested task force could address.

And while rescinding the Obama-era memo has created unclarity for governing bodies, it’s unclear whether that confusion has translated to the market.

“I’ve heard anecdotally that investing has gone down and private investors have pulled out of deals in Colorado,” Pace said, adding that there hasn’t been an increase in sales or economic activity following the move by Sessions either.

“People are going to be using without regulations. It makes more sense to have regulated, licensed and taxed cannabis than to have it on the black market,” he said. “If there are fewer investments in emerging markets, that means less there’s less safety and assurances in public safety.”

Kara Mason

Kara Mason

Kara Mason covers southern Colorado, Aurora and statewide issues for She also writes for the Aurora Sentinel.