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Governors of marijuana states urge Trump administration to maintain “hands off” marijuana policies

Author: Brian Heuberger - April 19, 2017 - Updated: April 18, 2017

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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper discusses issues with members of the press at a news conference at the state Capitol Wednesday, March 29, 2017, in Denver. Hickenlooper signed onto a letter with three other legalized marijuana state governors, discouraging the Trump administration from interfering with the marijuana laws in their states. (AP Photo/Dan Elliott)
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper discusses issues with members of the press at a news conference at the state Capitol Wednesday, March 29, 2017, in Denver. Hickenlooper signed onto a letter with three other legalized marijuana state governors, discouraging the Trump administration from interfering with the marijuana laws in their states. (AP Photo/Dan Elliott)

The governors of the first four states to legalize recreational marijuana have displayed solidarity by co-signing a letter that discourages the Trump administration from interfering with marijuana laws in their states.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the letter along with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker.

Addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the governors’ letter urged the Trump administration to uphold federal guidelines put into place by the Obama administration and to consult with the states that have legalized marijuana before implementing any policy changes.

“As governors of states that have legalized marijuana in some form,” wrote the governors, “we ask the Trump administration to engage with us before embarking on any changes to regulatory and enforcement systems.”

The letter is a proactive response to concerns that the Trump administration might enforce federal laws to crack down on marijuana states. Sessions has repeatedly opposed and criticized marijuana, even saying that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Sessions’ tough stance and the possibility of a crackdown have been disconcerting to the 28 states that already legalized some form of marijuana. Many states, including Nevada and Maine, have asked the administration to clarify its so-far ambiguous policies.

The letter sent by Hickenlooper and his fellow governors directly requested that the Trump administration maintain the existing policies established in the Cole Memo and utilized during the Obama era.

The 2013 Cole Memorandum articulates the federal government’s position on states that have legalized marijuana. Distributed by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole, the Cole Memo asserted that states can determine their own marijuana laws and that the federal government will only prosecute companies in marijuana states if they commit relatively egregious crimes.

For instance, the memo says that the Department of Justice will intervene if a business sells the marijuana to minors, sends the product across state lines or supplies money to criminal organizations. Aside from these types of hazards, the memo instructs federal prosecutors to leave marijuana states alone.

“Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences,” the governors wrote. “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 governors also defended the FinCEN marijuana guidelines. In 2014, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a U.S. Department of Treasury bureau, implemented a policy that allows banks in marijuana states to conduct business with legal dispensaries.

“The Cole Memo and the related Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) guidance provide the foundation for state regulatory systems and are vital to maintaining control over marijuana in our states,” wrote the governors.

Though several research studies demonstrate that legalizing marijuana can reduce crime rates, the governors argued that overturning the FinCEN guidelines would undermine this safety advantage.

“Without the FinCEN guidance, financial institutions will be less willing to provide services to marijuana-related businesses,” they wrote. “This would force industry participants to be even more cash reliant, posing safety risks both to the public and to state regulators conducting enforcement activity.”

Jacque Montgomery, press secretary for Hickenlooper, told The Colorado Statesman that the governor’s office is still optimistic about collaborating with the Trump administration.

“We have not gotten a response to the letter, but we don’t expect it this quickly because there’s a lot going on that they need to address out in Washington,” said Montgomery. “Our hope is that we can continue working with the administration to build on our regulatory system that prioritizes protecting public safety and public health, and we really do want to collaborate with the Attorney General and the teams out in D.C.”

Brian Heuberger

Brian Heuberger

Brian Heuberger is a contributing reporter to The Colorado Statesman.


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