LOUDON: If You Don’t Like Federal Marijuana Laws, Change Them — Don’t Ignore Them

AP/Brennan Linsley
AP/Brennan Linsley

Attorney General Sessions created a wave of controversy last week when he repealed the Obama administration’s 2013 “Cole Memo.” The most heated backlash came from the two U.S. Senators named “Cory.”

While Republican Cory Garner of Colorado was on the Senate floor defending the Obama policy, actually promising to keep Obama’s U.S. Attorneys in place by blocking any replacements, Democrat Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey took a different approach. The Cory named “Booker” announced through MoveOn.org that he would be moving ahead with his proposed “Marijuana Justice Act.”

What bizarre world has the Republican defending Obama and the Democrat defending the rule of law?

Candidate Donald J. Trump was a backlash candidate elected by an amalgam of people frustrated by what Trump labeled the “Swamp,” the special interests who controlled the federal government by assuring that it operated in their interest, not the public interest. We who supported him were animated by his call to restore the rule of law by reigning in lawlessness in open borders, immigration policy, the EPA, etc. Almost daily, we cheer as President Trump roles back one Obama action after another.

As with his refusal to enforce immigration or any other laws, the Cole Memo, enacted by former Attorney General Eric Holder, was an announcement to would-be pot profiteers that the Obama administration would not enforce federal law. It was yet another declaration that the Obama administration would only enforce laws it likes. That green light allowed George Soros, one of Obama’s biggest patrons, to lead national efforts to legalize pot at the state level.

Sessions has repealed 25 other Obama Justice Department “guidance documents.” The “Cole Memo” was an inherently dishonest backdoor gift to white-collar, Wall Street pot dealers.

Yet many of us, like the Cory named “Gardner,” who love seeing any lawless thing Obama did rolled back, suddenly find ourselves awkwardly supporting this one.

Americans enjoy a modicum of protection from illegal drugs stemming from duly enacted and thoroughly adjudicated federal laws separating legal and illegal controlled substances. Should one state be allowed unfettered production of any dangerous substance if it cannot prevent the flow of that substance into neighboring states? Should Colorado replace, or even in effect partner with Mexican drug cartels, enjoying huge profits from drugs distributed to neighboring states that are left only with the downsides?

With the secretive Cole Memo, Barack “pen and phone” Obama effectively voided federal law, for a time, and foisted a new pot industry onto an unsuspecting public.

Setting aside one’s views of pot legality, consider the process. Passing ballot measures is extremely expensive. Passing good laws is, in essence, free. If legal pot makes sense, why would pot proponents not make their case before the public and lawmaking bodies, holding public hearings to change the law?

It is clear that consultants to would-be pot investors informed them that pot is illegal under federal law and 50 state statutes because legalization cannot withstand the scrutiny of public hearings and dueling experts. Thus, the well-heeled pot industry chose the path of backroom deals and direct democracy. They financed ballot issues nationwide that exploited the natural tendency of people of good will to want to ease the suffering of medical patients. They lobbied heavily for the Cole Memo, which gave pot investors the green light to put millions of dollars into state ballot measures, knowing the Obama administration would look the other way.

As we consider Obama policy under the Cole memo, it is worth considering exactly what the Cory from Colorado is defending. The Cole Memo could not decriminalize pot, so it merely defined a number of public protection “enforcement priorities.” How did Holder’s Justice Department do with their own stated pot enforcement priorities?

  1. “Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors” – There is a lot of conflicting survey data reporting pot use by kids, but logic and hospital data showing a quadruple increase in pot-related child hospital admissions seem most reliable. Anecdotally, my 15-year-old asked to leave California, citing the fact that he knew just four kids in the neighborhood NOT smoking pot regularly. Kids start at 11 or 12 and move to harder drugs by 15. What drives a kid to want to leave life on the beach?
  2. “Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels & Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states” – Gangs have never been stronger, and California already exports more pot to the rest of the country than Mexico, supplying as much as 80% of the pot consumed nationally.
  3. “Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands” – Two rural California counties have rallied for help, citing as many as 1200 illegal grow sites in Yuma county alone and an estimated 50,000 statewide. Mexican gangs and illegal profiteers grab any land they can find in state and national parks, polluting and even drying up streams in the process. Pot plantations are devastating parks and streams across California.

By any objective measure, the Cole Memo is a joke. It represents nothing more than a back-door tactic to legalize an illegal industry.

If one stands for the rule of law in the United States of America, then you must support the Trump administration returning to the rule of law, to transparency. This was a hallmark of the Trump campaign.

Americans voted for the President largely for his promise to restore enforcement of illegal immigration law in opposition to special interests on the left, who want votes, and on Wall Street, who want cheap labor. Curbing illegal immigration and securing the border also mean curbing the drug trade.

While the Cole Memo allowed gangs, growers and investors to enjoy illegal profits at the expense of kids, families and the environment, Attorney General Sessions is restoring protections passed by the peoples’ representatives. Californians and Coloradans may have voted for a vibrant pot trade, but their votes laid huge consequences and costs on the rest of us, despite federal protections that formerly existed on paper only.

If you disagree with a law, then you hold hearings and change it. Threats by Members of Congress and U.S. Senators calling on the Trump administration to adopt the lawless tactics of the previous administration are misplaced.

The high-minded calls to states’ rights in defense of the Cole Memo are actually calls to lawlessness. Politicians disagreeing with their own laws need to have the fortitude to step up and change them.

John Loudon is a policy advisor with America First Policies. He served as a Missouri state senator and member of the Missouri House of Representatives for 14 years. Most recently, he was a construction industry professional for California Construction Advancement Group until Governor Jerry Brown defunded the organization.


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