Colorado officials give cold shoulder to Sessions’ request to let federal prosecutors target medical marijuana industry

Author: Ernest Luning - June 15, 2017 - Updated: June 16, 2017

In this March 6, 2017, file photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in Washington. Sessions has asked congressional leaders to undo a budget provision that forbids the Department of Justice from interfering with the medical marijuana industry in states that have legalized it. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants Congress to allow federal prosecutors to target legal medical marijuana providers, but Colorado officials and members of the state’s congressional delegation say they like things the way they are.

In a May 1 letter to congressional leaders made public this week, Sessions asks lawmakers to nullify the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, named after its initial sponsors, a bipartisan budget measure in place since 2014 that forbids the feds from interfering with the medical marijuana industry in certain states where it’s legal.

Sessions argues that it would be “unwise” to hamper the Department of Justice from enforcing federal narcotics law, “particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.”

Trump administration officials have suggested the federal government could begin cracking down on the marijuana trade in states where it’s legal, although the administration has encountered fierce push-back from states, including Colorado.

In the letter to Congress, which was first reported Monday by MassRoots, a marijuana-related news site, Sessions charges that drug traffickers “already cultivate and distribute marijuana inside the United States under the guise of state medical marijuana laws.” He points to a recent set of indictments alleging the holder of a Colorado medical marijuana license was the ringleader of a criminal conspiracy to ship marijuana out of state.

Colorado’s governor, a Democrat, and top law enforcement officer, a Republican, however, told Colorado Politics on Wednesday they believe the prohibition on federal interference with state medical marijuana laws makes sense and expect it will stay on the books.

In addition, two Republican members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, including a former prosecutor, said they support the amendment.

“Throughout the period of legalization in Colorado, we have worked to build and maintain a regulatory structure that protects public health, public safety, and other law enforcement interests,” Gov. John Hickenlooper’s spokeswoman, Jacque Montgomery, told Colorado Politics. “We have maintained a collaborative relationship with the federal government as we’ve built Colorado’s existing regulatory structure. Rohrabacher-Farr plays an important role in our collaborative relationship, which we hope will continue.”

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman suggested that Sessions’ argument, far from supporting his position, demonstrate that the system is working in Colorado, which legalized medical marijuana in 2000 and became one of the first jurisdictions in the world to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012 when voters approved Amendment 64.

“General Sessions correctly notes that Colorado is aggressively prosecuting individuals who commit crimes under the cover of Colorado’s medical marijuana laws,” Coffman told Colorado Politics. “However, his comments appear on their face to be a blanket repudiation of all marijuana and state control of its growth, sale, and use, even where regulations and enforcement are effective. I anticipate Congress will stand by its rider on the Department of Justice appropriation in deference to states’ rights, but the legalized pot discussion is far from over.”

In all, 29 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana, and recreational marijuana is legal in eight states and the District of Columbia, although federal law still classifies it as an illegal, controlled substance.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman not only swung back at Sessions and his request but doubled down on a proposal he aired earlier this year to restrict the Justice Department from targeting the recreational marijuana trade in states where it’s legal.

“The voters of Colorado made a decision to legalize marijuana, and I will continue to do everything I can to defend that decision to include supporting an appropriations amendment that would prohibit the expenditure of any funds for the purpose of enforcing federal marijuana laws against a state that has legalized marijuana,” Coffman told Colorado Politics.

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, the former Weld County district attorney, had a succinct response to Sessions.

“I have read the Attorney General’s letter and considered his reasoning, and I continue to support the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment,” Buck said.


Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.


  • Betty Beidelschies

    June 14, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    Colorado family here! Attorney General, Jeff Session may this nation continue to enforce the federal marijuana laws and keep it illegal. The use of marijuana leads to more crime, is a pathway to stronger drugs, contributes to more social and medical needs, interferes with family relationships and is getting in the hands of youth creating more mental illness and suicide rates. It’s use interferes with student’s brain development and when speaking recently to a high school group, a high school athelete said, his friends on ‘pot’ have changed their personalities. Plus, on Route 70, too many drugs are passing through which puts an unnecessary burden on our police/drug enforcement agencies. The small amount of cash being reported does not outweigh the problems created by the industry. All from a profesdional dedicated teacher and an affiliate dealing with the problem here in Colorado.


    • Tannim

      June 15, 2017 at 6:35 am

      Another Colorado family here.

      You’re FOS.

      IT’S A PLANT.

      Why do you hate plants?

      Why do you hate freedom?

      Has Reefer Madness given you that much brain damage?


    • God is Good

      July 23, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      Big Pharma hired Jeff Sessions to push back on Hemp. Time has come for the 99% to fight the elite and their selfish ways. They have brainwashed the conservatives to thinking it’s a gateway drug. CBD’s (Hemp) cures Cancer. The powers that be can’t have that. Wake Up!!


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  • Joshua

    August 4, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    Marijuana is a plant with many benifits which i have used since 1970. Those in power need to do as votets have voted. Freedom trumps your nartow minded fears. Mind your own bussiness and start leagalizing freedom of choice. To each their own. No one has a right to make a drcision for another. We need less government and more freedom.


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