The Cole Memo is a much discussed document in today’s cannabis conversations. Our companion article to this one, titled: What You Need To Know About Federal Cannabis Laws In The US gives background on the relevancy of this memo. Here, however, we are focusing purely on The Cole Memo and how it affected federal cannabis policies when it was written as well as today.
First, what you literally came here for, a quick definition of The Cole Memo.
What Is The Cole Memo?
The Cole Memo is a term for three documents initially drafted by former US Attorney General James M. Cole in 2013. On August 29, 2013, Cole issued a memorandum to other US attorneys distributed via the Department of Justice regarding the cannabis issue.
The memo suggested that prosecutors as well as police ought to concentrate solely on pursuing cases meeting a certain criteria.
- Distribution to minors;
- Generate revenue that funds criminal enterprises, and gangs or cartels;
- Trafficking over state lines;
- Cannabis infraction masks additional, serious criminal activity;
- Violence and use or firearms in the growing and distribution of cannabis;
- Vehicle operation while intoxicated;
- Using public land to grow cannabis; and
- Use and possession on federal property.
Any cannabis related activity falling outside the scope of these circumstances was no longer a priority.
How did this affect law enforcement’s behavior at the time? What was going on when the memo emerged? Let’s put it in some context.
The Cole Memo In Context: Back In 2013
In 2012, Washington and Colorado voted to legalize recreational cannabis. This move by these two states created a paradox; cannabis was still illegal on a federal level. During this time, a now infamous memo emerged relative to discussions State Attorney handling of cannabis arrests.
The Cole Memo marked a pivotal point in federal treatment of cannabis. It evidenced a significant shift in the federal government, deprioritizing the use of funds to enforce cannabis prohibition under the Controlled Substances Act. In short, outside of trafficking pointing to larger criminal activity as noted in the list above, the directive was to turn the other cheek.
After the memo was issued, most federal prosecutions were halted unless they met the listed criteria.
The Cole Memo In Context: 2018
The reason we’re talking about this again lately relates to statements coming from the current administration. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions flops back and forth about his feelings on cannabis and the infamous Cole Memo as well.
While in March of 2017 Sessions called the memo valid, in early 2018 Sessions rescinded this policy of non interference. This enables federal prosecutors to govern their own behavior more freely when it comes to what cannabis activity to address and what they can let slide.
We’ll get into more of the details of the current context in the next article, which you can find here.
Understanding The Cole Memo
Now you have a basic understanding about what the memo is and why it matters. This will help you get more out of the news which sometimes glosses over these details.