Colorado lawmakers continue to react to federal marijuana announcement

WASHINGTON (KKTV) - U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a marijuana enforcement memo last week rescinding the Obama administration's guidance, which enabled states to legalize marijuana without federal intervention. Colorado lawmakers are still reacting to the announcement eight days later. Sessions' one-page memo makes it clear that marijuana possession and distribution is against federal law, and it will direct U.S. attorneys to approach these cases as they do all other cases when enforcing them.

On Friday, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn R-Colorado released the following statement regarding Attorney General Sessions' issuance of the memo:
"The federal government has the right and responsibility to uphold federal laws. I am encouraged by Attorney General Sessions' revision of the Cole Memo. The Cole Memo was an effort by the Obama Administration to create laws by executive action through the Department of Justice, as it did with immigration, rather than to enforce laws duly passed by the legislative branch.

The social costs of legalizing marijuana in Colorado have been steep, and the negative effects on children are particularly concerning. Since legalization, the number of calls to emergency poison control for children eight years and younger has tripled, thanks to the potency, attractiveness and availability of edibles. Youth arrests, particularly among minorities, have sharply increased. Homelessness is a rapidly growing concern. Rather than lessening criminal activity associated with marijuana, cartels have rushed into Colorado, resulting in 19 cartel operation busts in the last 18 months.

If we're honest with ourselves, legalizing marijuana has been bad for the state of Colorado. I applaud Attorney General Sessions for upholding the law and recognizing the serious and proven harms associated with marijuana."

Last Friday, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet D-Colorado released a statement requesting Sessions rescind the Jan. 4 guidance regarding marijuana enforcement:
“The Justice Department’s decision to rescind the Cole Memorandum completely disregards the steps the state of Colorado has taken to regulate legal marijuana dispensaries and retail stores,” Bennet wrote. “It also creates uncertainty and confusion for businesses, patients, and customers who are following the law.”

In the letter, Bennet outlined how the Department of Justice’s failure to put forth a coherent strategy is undermining the original purpose of the Cole Memorandum to minimize federal intervention.

“Our state, as well as the 28 other states, will remain obligated to carry out the will of the people,” Bennet wrote. “However, we must now do so in the context of nebulous federal interaction…We need a coherent strategy from the Department of Justice as to how this discretion will be administered. The failure to do so will invite chaos, which will do more to harm public safety than to restrict legal marijuana.”

Bennet also raised the issue of banking services for marijuana businesses. Earlier this year, Bennet introduced legislation that would ensure legal cannabis businesses can access banking services, decreasing safety risks for the business and surrounding communities.

“I also fear that your decision may make it more difficult for marijuana businesses to obtain merchant services from banks and credit unions, forcing them to conduct more business in cash,” Bennet wrote. “This may raise significant public safety issues and make it harder to ensure that businesses are complying with state laws and regulations—which is the exact opposite intended effect of the 2018 Guidance.”

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, and since then, five more states have passed recreational marijuana laws, including Massachusetts, where retail sales are scheduled to begin in July.