Bay State Politicians and Patients React to Sessions Announcement on Marijuana

On January 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he would rescind the Cole Memo which dictates that federal prosecutors wouldn’t interfere with states that had legalized recreational marijuana. The Cole Memo was issued after Washington and Colorado became the first two states to legalize marijuana, and they came across a conundrum, when regulatory bodies within the two states were hashing regulations (much like the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Board is doing) being that Marijuana was and is still a Schedule I drug, and federally illegal.
To provide clarity to this conundrum, Obama’s then Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole drafted the namesake memo to provide clarity to the states and future nascent industries.
The feds spared these states interference as long as they followed a few key stipulations like prohibiting the sale of marijuana to minors, curbing marijuana revenue from going to cartels and leaving the states that had legalized the substance, and preventing Marijuana from being possessed, grown and used on Federal and public lands.
Sessions’s announcement came as Massachusetts, having recently legalized recreational Marijuana for adults over 21, is crafting regulation on the industry. The Cannabis Control Board, the state agency overseeing these new regulations, has responded to the federal announcement in a press release saying that “As far as the mandate and the work of the Cannabis Control Commission is concerned, nothing has changed.”
Governor Baker has vowed to speak the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, urging him to prioritize instead curbing the spread of opiates, which are killing people daily in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey also weighed on the issue stating that “The people of Massachusetts have voted to make marijuana legal under state law and the Cannabis Control Commission has been given the authority to establish a strong regulatory system that ensures public safety and allows for responsible sale and use of marijuana products.” Healey and  Baker were opponents of recreational legalization like Baker.
Despite, the Cannabis Control Commission assurances, Lelling has offered ominous words regarding the state’s new industry stating last week that “As [the US] Justice department has highlighted, medical studies confirm that marijuana is in fact a dangerous drug and it is illegal under federal law.” He later said that his department reserves the right to prosecute large scale marijuana cultivation as well as those who are using the federal banking system illegally.
Lelling offered a statement a couple days later surmising that he will pursue prosecutions on a case by case basis, adding“Congress has unambiguously made it crime to cultivate, distribute and or possess marijuana.”
This statement has left a lot of consumers, growers, and processors in the recreational industry on their toes, but Medical Cannabis patients are also left vulnerable as a result of the Cole Memo retraction. Currently, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer budget rider amendment, that has been included in each Federal Budget since 2014, is the only law that offers protection to marijuana consumers.
The amendment states that federal funds cannot be used to crack down on state medical marijuana programs. Although a majority of the Massachusetts congressional delegation has supported medical cannabis in one form or another, one key Bay State Congresswoman, Katherine Clark (a Congresswoman who Represents Massachusetts 5th District), sits on the Appropriations Committee, which has sway in maintaining this amendment within the Federal budget.
In a statement from her Washington D.C office, she said Sessions’s announcement “it is an absurd misallocation of already scant federal resources that are spent on providing immediate help for families caught in the grip of the opioid crisis.”
For a few days, state medical dispensaries, responding to  Lelling’s words, decided to go cash only after a payment processing company removed its support to many of Massachusetts current RMDS earlier this week. However, at time of this writing, many of these dispensaries have since been given the go ahead by the payment processing company to re-allow debit card transactions.
Patients are also concerned, as outlets like CBS Boston have noted.
There’s also a bit of resignation and frustration among them.  Raphael (last name withheld for patient privacy reasons), a patron of the New England Treatment Access Inc. told me “It’s out of my hands at this point.”
Trump has long mentioned during the campaign regarding how he would proceed with regards to marijuana legalization is that it is largely a state issue that he wouldn’t interfere with, but like much of his actions throughout his time in office, he has largely said one thing and done another.

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