LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An Obama-era directive that paved the way for the legal pot industry to grow in states across the country went up in smoke Thursday.
The nation’s top law enforcer rescinded the “Cole Memo,” which allowed states to implement their own laws for legalized marijuana mostly without federal intervention.
In his memo sent to every U.S. attorney Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will instead allow federal prosecutors to decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana law.
Sessions said violent crime and the country’s drug crisis inspired his decision.
The two U.S. attorneys for Arkansas referred all questions to the justice department Thursday.
Toward the end of the day, the U.S. attorney for the eastern district, Cody Hiland, released the following statement:
The Attorney General’s announcement today underscores his continued commitment to entrust prosecutorial discretion to the U.S. Attorney’s throughout the country.
We are a nation of laws and not men. I took an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and that is what this office has done and will continue to do throughout my term as U.S. Attorney.
To that end, we will continue to exercise our prosecutorial discretion and evaluate criminal cases on an individual basis as it relates to the law and the facts as presented.
At a press conference Thursday at the state capitol, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former U.S. attorney, called Sessions’ memo a “very significant development.”
“The question is what he’s going to replace that guidance with,” Hutchinson said.
The governor said there are two impacts in the Natural State to watch: banking and whether Sessions will distinguish between the two types of legalized marijuana.
“You should look at where President Trump has been,” he suggested.
Hutchinson said the president recognizes medical marijuana as an appropriate exception to federal enforcement policy but not recreational.
“From my perspective, there needs to be a difference of view between medical marijuana and recreational use of marijuana,” he said.
David Couch, who crafted the medical marijuana ballot measure voters approved, and the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Association point to a bipartisan amendment that prevents the justice department from interfering with medical marijuana businesses and patients who operate in compliance with state law.
Congress will consider its extension as part of the 2018 budget.
“The federal enforcement policy is an important part of where we go as a country,” Hutchinson said.
There’s still a lot of unknown, but the governor made one thing clear.
“I do not want Arkansas to become a recreational-use state,” he said.