Cole Memo author downplays likelihood of US crackdown on marijuana industry

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision in January to rescind the Cole Memo hasn’t had a big impact on the U.S. cannabis industry, but it could – although the chances are “remote and unlikely.”

That was one of the messages delivered Thursday to marijuana entrepreneurs by former Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole, the author of the Obama-era policy that paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country.

Cole on Thursday delivered the keynote address at the National Cannabis Industry Association’s 2018 Cannabis Business Summit & Expo in San Jose, California.

“What I’ve seen from a prosecutorial standpoint so far … is not much. I haven’t seen a spate of prosecutions (since) the Cole Memo” was rescinded, Cole said.

“Now you’ve got 93 U.S. attorneys who are all given their own individual discretion. … In the states that have legalized marijuana, those U.S. attorneys are by and large political animals,” Cole continued.

“I don’t expect them to do much, because that political reality is going to be a natural barrier to them taking an aggressive approach and really defying the will of the voters.”

What is possible, he warned, is that a U.S. attorney in a state without a legal cannabis industry could decide to make political hay by taking legal action against a marijuana business in another state.

“You’ve had U.S. attorneys offices that have spread their jurisdictional arm very, very far to bring cases in their district against entities that weren’t in their district. They touch the district in one way or another. So, it’s possible to do,” Cole said during a news conference after his keynote.

But, he stressed, that’s a “remote and unlikely” eventuality, and he’s not aware of any U.S. attorneys who have such plans.

Cole also gave MJ companies hope by pointing out that federal reform may be on the horizon.

“Everything I hear from people on the Hill is there’s a bipartisan majority in both houses for something. What that something is, I don’t know,” Cole said.

He identified the bipartisan States’ Act, introduced by U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, and Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, as one possibility.

Cole also said a policy priority needs to be guaranteeing banking access for marijuana businesses, one of several issues that Congress could act on.

John Schroyer can be reached at