DENVER (CBS4) – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has scrapped Obama administration guidelines on prosecution of marijuana-related cases.
He is now leaving it up to each individual attorney general.
That is likely to mean no change in Colorado to past practices of going after drug cartels and other serious crimes rather than dispensaries, grows, and use legalized under state law.
Reversing course on marijuana could send a freeze through the economy and to small businesses.
There was no panic at Tru Cannabis next to Mile High Stadium.
“I think it’s better than popping pills all day,” one female buyer told CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger.
Denver based Blue Line Protection Group provides armored vehicle transport and security for marijuana dispensaries.
The company never touches the drug, but because the industry is isolated from traditional banking Blue Line has found a lucrative revenue stream due primarily to the Cole Memorandum advising the Department of Justice to deprioritize marijuana enforcement.
“It’s allowed us to flourish and grow and look at how we can legitimize and transparent this business,” says Ricky Bennett at Blue Line.
The company started three years ago with only six employees. They now employ more than 100 people and are staring at a potential gold rush of opportunity as more states, including California, sell recreational marijuana.
However, if federal prosecutors follow through on threats to treat marijuana as a priority, Blue Line’s plans will suffer.
“If you had a definitive decision (from the DOJ) then, of course,” says Bennett.
Bruce Nassau, who is the board chairman of the Marijuana Industry Group in Colorado, expects maybe a slowdown in marijuana business growth elsewhere, but not a shut down here.
“I think the State of Colorado and others have proven we do not have rioting in the streets. The cartels have not taken over,” he said.
In a statement, the U.S. Attorney for Colorado Bob Troyer indicates no significant change, saying “Prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper did not seem overly concerned.
“They are not going to take away resources from higher magnitude crimes to address some pot dispensary on South Broadway,” he told reporters at a news conference.
Nevertheless, marijuana, while legal under state of Colorado law, remains in the same class as heroin under federal law.
One woman buying pot asked CBS4, “How many people have died from marijuana versus how many people die every single day from heroin.”
Democrats and Republicans were outraged by the announcement, none more vocally than Republican Sen. Cory Gardner who said then-Sen. Jeff Sessions assured him the Trump Administration would not touch marijuana policy before being confirmed as Attorney General.
“Many of us on the Hill were told before the confirmation what we had continued to believe the last year… and without any dialogue with Congress they completely reversed,” said Gardner.
Gardner said he would hold Sessions to his word in a standoff that could slow the already lethargic pace of getting Trump nominees confirmed.
“I will be putting a hold on every single nomination to the DOJ until AG Sessions lives up to the commitment he made to me before he was confirmed,” said Gardner.
Troyer issued the following statement regarding marijuana prosecutions:
“Today the Attorney General rescinded the Cole Memo on marijuana prosecutions, and directed that federal marijuana prosecution decisions be governed by the same principles that have long governed all of our prosecution decisions. The United States Attorney’s Office in Colorado has already been guided by these principles in marijuana prosecutions — focusing in particular on identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state. We will, consistent with the Attorney General’s latest guidance, continue to take this approach in all of our work with our law enforcement partners throughout Colorado.”