Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced he was rescinding the 2013 Cole Memo, which created federal guidelines to protect states that have legalized medical cannabis. The Cole Memo discouraged federal prosecutors from prosecuting individuals who are in compliance with state law, and was a positive step to roll-back the harmful and failed war on drugs.
The repeal by Sessions is a direct threat to Michigan’s medical marijuana system and the twenty-nine states, including Washington, D.C., that have legalized medical marijuana. It also conflicts with Trump’s position during the campaign when he stated he supported the right of states to decide the issue.
Michigan voters overwhelmingly voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2008. Since then, over 300,000 individuals have registered with the state as medical marijuana patients along with over 40,000 caregivers. In 2016, the Michigan legislature passed a set of bills to allow facilities to obtain licenses from the state and municipalities to grow, process, test, distribute, and transport medical cannabis in Michigan. Dozens of municipalities across the state have already opted-in to the new law and are in the process of licensing local facilities.
Fortunately, the Rohrabacher amendment still remains in effect. The amendment was first passed in 2014 and prevents the federal government from using resources to prosecute individuals or groups in compliance with their state marijuana laws. Recently, federal courts have halted several marijuana prosecutions, ruling the U.S. Justice Department is prohibited by law from interfering with individuals legally operating within state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs.
The Rohrabacher amendment was included in the recent stop-gap bills to fund the federal government and is set to expire on January 19. In response to Sessions, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have already come out in support of protecting the right of states to implement their own cannabis related laws. But uncertainty remains about the future of state-marijuana programs without clarity and consistency in federal marijuana policy and enforcement.
Michigan’s delegation should make clear that they stand with Michigan voters who overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana in 2008. They should support the Rohrabacher amendment and include additional protections for states that have chosen to legalize for adult-use.
MI Legalize and the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol recently turned in over 360,000 signatures to the Michigan Secretary of State to put the initiative to a vote of the people in 2018. Current polling shows over 60 percent of voters support the initiative, which would create tens of thousands of jobs, invest hundreds of millions of new tax dollars in Michigan schools, roads, bridges, and local governments, and provide funds for medical research for U.S. veterans.
The reefer madness days are over. It’s time for Washington, D.C., and Michigan’s delegation to respect the will of Michigan voters and their right to decide on this issue without federal interference.
Jeffrey Hank is executive director of MI Legalize.