Last week, U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Don Young (R-AK) introduced a bill that would effectively restore the protections granted to state-legal marijuana operators under the Cole Memo. The immediate impact would be to counter a U.S. Department of Justice policy shift announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month – namely, the very repeal of the Cole Memo.
HR 4779, titled “the REFER Act,” would bar the federal government from spending any money on the prosecution of operators or business owners in states where marijuana has been legalized for medical or recreational purposes. (“REFER” stands for Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement and Regulations.) The bill also prevents the federal government from going after banking institutions simply because they provide a financial service to a business involved with marijuana.
The spirit of the bill mirrors the Cole Memo, which was published in 2013 by then-deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole.
“The federal government should respect the will of the voters in states that have voted to decriminalize cannabis. It’s time to stop wasting taxpayer money on the failed War on Drugs,” Lee said in a public statement. “I’m proud to introduce the REFER Act, which would prevent the Attorney General and others in the Trump Administration from stifling the budding cannabis industry. If the federal government chooses to interfere in these state matters, it’s up to Congress to prevent this harmful overreach.”
Lee, whose district includes the city of Oakland, pointed to the growing number of Americans living in states that have approved a legal marijuana program. In California, the adult-use retail market went live on Jan. 1.
“The cannabis industry is moving forward, despite the best efforts of the Trump Administration to hamper this progress,” she said. “One in five Americans resides in a state where cannabis use has been legalized. By passing the REFER Act, Congress can end the federal government’s wrongful targeting of this industry and ensure that the will of the American people is respected.”
Prior to any in-depth debate on that subject, though, the marijuana industry will be watching the U.S. Congress this week as its next spending bill deadline looms on Jan. 19. In that bill lies the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which extends specifics protections to legal medical marijuana programs (including CBD-only programs). That amendment is similar to the Cole Memo and HR 4779 in that its method is to bar the DOJ from funding the prosecution of any state-legal medical marijuana operator.
See the full bill here:
Top photo courtesy of Wikipedia