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Jeff Sessions Leaves the Cole Memo Intact, for Now

December 21, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference in Baltimore, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, to announce efforts to combat the MS-13 street gang with law enforcement and immigration actions. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Late Thursday, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally rescinded 25 guidance documents created by his predecessors at the Justice Department. The guidance memos, meant to set policy and establish enforcement priorities, dealt with a variety of issues. Most critically for the cannabis industry, the Cole memo was not among the 25 memo scuttled by Sessions.

By leaving the Cole memo intact, Sessions allowed state-legal adult cannabis to stand. For the time being.

That means the Justice Department’s Aug. 2013 guidance document, which spelled out the DOJ’s priorities and areas of concern regarding legal adult-use cannabis in Colorado and Washington (and all later adult-use states), remains intact at least for the foreseeable future.

The Cole memo, written by James Cole, a deputy attorney general under then-AG Eric Holder, spelled out the conditions under which the Justice Department would allow states to regulate and enforce their own cannabis laws. The memo did not federally legalize cannabis, or legally prevent the DEA or other Justice Department agencies from enforcing federal cannabis laws in legal states. It is merely a policy document meant to guide departmental decisions about state-legal cannabis.


The Cole Memo: What Is It and What Does It Mean?

Sessions, a vocal opponent of state legalization laws, has often expressed a desire to reverse two decades of progress won by legalization advocates. Rescinding the Cole memo would have been the most direct attack on those gains. In his move on Thursday, Sessions did not eliminate the Cole guidance, but neither did he confirm that it would continue to guide his department’s decisions.

In March, President Trump issued Executive Order 13777, which called for agencies to establish Regulatory Reform Task Forces to identify existing regulations for potential repeal, replacement, or modification. The Department of Justice Task Force, chaired by Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, began its work in May.

On November 17, Sessions issued a memorandum prohibiting DOJ components from using guidance documents to circumvent the rulemaking process and directed Associate Attorney General Brand to work with components to identify guidance documents that should be repealed, replaced, or modified.


Sessions Calls Cole Memo ‘Valid,’ Says Fed Resources Are Limited

The DOJ’s media release stated that the Department “is continuing its review of existing guidance documents to repeal, replace, or modify.” So the Cole memo could still be under review. 

The list of 25 guidance documents that DOJ withdrew on Thursday are listed below. For more detail, see the Justice Department’s web site

  1. ATF Procedure 75-4.
  2. Industry Circular 75-10. 
  3. ATF Ruling 85-3. 
  4. Industry Circular 85-3. 
  5. ATF Ruling 2001-1. 
  6. ATF Ruling 2004-1.
  7. Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative Guidelines (2013).  
  8. Northern Border Prosecution Initiative Guidelines (2013).  
  9. Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grants Program Guidance Manual (2007). 
  10. Advisory for Recipients of Financial Assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice on Levying Fines and Fees on Juveniles (January 2017). 
  11. Dear Colleague Letter on Enforcement of Fines and Fees (March 2016). 
  12. ADA Myths and Facts (1995).
  13. Common ADA Problems at Newly Constructed Lodging Facilities (November 1999).
  14. Title II Highlights (last updated 2008).
  15. Title III Highlights (last updated 2008).
  16. Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals in Places of Business (July 1996).
  17. ADA Business Brief: Service Animals (April 2002). 
  18. Prior Joint Statement of the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development Group Homes, Local Land Use, and the Fair Housing Act (August 18, 1999). 
  19. Letter to Alain Baudry, Esq., with standards for conducting internal audit in a non-discriminatory fashion (December 4, 2009). 
  20. Letter to Esmeralda Zendejas on how to determine whether lawful permanent residents are protected against citizenship status discrimination (May 30, 2012). 
  21. Common ADA Errors and Omissions in New Construction and Alterations (June 1997). 
  22. Common Questions: Readily Achievable Barrier Removal and Design Details: Van Accessible Parking Spaces (August 1996). 
  23. Website guidance on bailing-out procedures under section 4(b) and section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (2004).  
  24. Americans with Disabilities Act Questions and Answers (May 2002).
  25. Statement of the Department of Justice on Application of the Integration Mandate of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Olmstead v. L.C. to State and Local Governments’ Employment Service Systems for Individuals with Disabilities (October 31, 2016).

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

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  • Legalize420

    For the time being, we can let out a huge sigh of relief.
    I know this isn’t over with Sessions by a long shot, but I am thrilled to see the Cole memo remain for now. I have been very unsettled as if late but this puts me at ease.

    Now to take a nice Bongrip of some medical LA Confidential to celebrate this good news! 🍁

    • Jackson Shredder

      Damn right!!! Wake and bake it shall be !!

  • lovingc

    Sessions is due for more questioning in front of Congress for lying to Congress with out telling the truth ever. The man is subject to impeachment and if the republicans can keep from breaking the law long enough he will be impeached.
    Jeffy is an evil little man and will be reviled for decades.

  • Ronnie Allen

    It not the attorney General’s job to make law that is Congress’s job nor is it the job for judges.

    This may not go down well with anyone on this thread but this is a free speech country. My opinion is just as important to me as others.

    • justadbeer

      Correct. He does not make laws. But he “interprets” the law. Anyone found in violation of his interpretation will be arrested and tried for breaking the law. Once at trial the judge will be the one to decide if the AG’s interpretation stands on good legal ground, and the judge will do that by convicting or acquitting the individual brought to trial. Court cases that follow this procedure are called “test cases,” and are actually pretty common. IMO, there is a reason why he didn’t rescind the Cole memo and it’s a simple one. Money. The cannabis industry is set to bring in billions in tax revenue (Cali & CO are already proof of this) . For this reason and this reason only, Sessions is getting a huge amount of pressure to stand down.

    • lovingc

      In your opinion.

  • bob g

    strange man ole yoda sessions

  • David Whittington

    Any jailed cannabis users should be released and that little lying red-necked bible-thumping Southern-bubba twerp Jeff Sessions should take their place.

  • Ghost of Reagan

    Trump should replace sessions with an AG with balls.

    • P.J. Rafter

      What effect do you think a change of AG would have?

      • massvocals

        could no would be night and day like anyone in past …

  • Mo Jo

    (the memo) “did not legally prevent the DEA or other Justice Department agencies from enforcing federal cannabis laws in legal states”…. but it did establish jurisprudence in the form of Estoppel, which means that it would be extremely difficult and expensive for the DOJ to retroactively enforce policies, statutes, regulations, ordinances and laws previous to the Cole Memo. All they could do is revoke it and move forward from that point in time. Federal courts would most likely put a one year injunction against enforcement going forward, as the lawsuits come flooding in. Because we all know the metrics are solid enough to sue the Federal government in World Court for Human Rights violations. No Statute of Limitations can protect Sessions and his cronies. We can arrest them, prosecute them, convict them and jail them until the end of their lives.

    • massvocals

      well you best start I would love to sign on to have that happen , The AG is planning to attack all the legal cannabis shops in every state , frankly I would not dismiss the problem coming to arise in the killing and deaths of legal dispensary owners and workers in all the legal states , I tell you there investments are there livelihoods and property . none of the state law NONE is allowed in federal courts President Trump better stop this little game and support state rights since he has not the education on cannabis , he seems to listen to old propaganda ….and king fish law enforcement with outdated logic and truth he better wake up

  • Tim Bambam

    I would not be surprised if Jeff Sessions boss is telling him marijuana is off the table. He has been allowed to make threats to the industry but I believe they have tied his hand. Otherwise I think we would be starting from the beginning as far as legalization is concerned.
    When you consider how many Obama era laws that have been changed just because his name was on them, but they haven’t gone after the marijuana industry. Is that because there are far to many states have already legalized in one form or another with as many as 10 more states getting ready to do the same. Is it because the industry has created so many new jobs that would be lost if there were a crack down.

    • massvocals

      your dreaming

    • Jackson Shredder

      You got it Tim. It will not be stopped. Too late for that now. 😁

  • P.J. Rafter

    The prohibitionist’s transparent lies don’t seem to have the traction they once had ─ and about time, too…

    • Robert Johnson

      Thats because the baby boomer generation is almost in the ground, and gen xrs r now ruling the day, and we WILL put blue lives in cages where they belong, because if I can be imprisoned, lose my kids, my family, my career, my home, my assets, my dignity, my self respect, my honor, all for making a wiser choice to consume an all natural herb, over toxins and poisons like alcohol and tobacco, these sobs belong in a cage for being willing participants in the erosion of good citizens rights and the destruction of their lives, as they look down their nose at us, calling us dopers druggies, as tho were 2nd class citizens, as they get drunk, and go home and beat their wives. The violation of a citizen’s civil rights IS a felony, and harming good Americans for their choice in liberty, WILL be punishable. LEOs and all who work for the DOJ, including their secretaries, belong in prison, publicly hung, and humiliated forever, to teach the next generation how to deal with a police state, and to ensure the pigs NEVER become an illegal standing army within our borders EVER AGAIN. If the past 45yrs is the best cops can do, WE DONT NEED THEM, we need a heavily armed populous, something our founding fathers envisioned, not blue lives hell bent on supporting themselves, thru ANY means necessary, legal or not, moral or not. I think America needs the Investigation industry, and put our unemployed to work investigating EVERY case where ppl are incarcerated today, and free those whose charges have no victim. Then we work to clean up past records of citizens whose only crime was failure to comply, and then investigate EVERY alphabet soup agency, member of DOJ, and corporation within our borders, AND PUT REAL CRIMINALS IN JAIL. Nazi germany couldnt do it to the nazis, cuz they were ill prepared for losing the war, and needed to rebuild. We have millions we could put to work tomorrow, and how many of those would love a chance to look deep into the activities of their former employer? This would END jobs being lost over seas to cheap labor, and likely bring most jobs back to our shores. The ONLY way this country will EVER be gr8 again, IS through TRUTH and JUSTICE, so those who say “It will never happen” do not have the conviction and determination to be a proud American, and would choose to sit back and do nothing, effectively enabling the tyranny to manifest and continue, and therefore r on the side of the losers, not the victors of this war rooted in lies, discrimination, bigotry, and pure ridiculousness

  • Denny

    I think Trump is on the cannabis people side

    • massvocals

      no your wrong , he has allow the AG office to replace and used the billions under forfeiture coffers for funding

      • Denny

        I don’t like the forfeiture laws ,because there talking property before your guilty ,need to do something about that

    • kevin jennings

      if he is its for the money only and if he has his way will manipulate it as he dies with EVERYTHING he touches.

      • Denny

        Trump don’t need money,he’s working for 1 dollar as President, but I agree the local police an states are taking peoples property, it’s been going on for years. I remember I used to work in the coal mines and there was like mines every where,it was called wildcating back then,the state and feds would come in and take the small operation coalminers equipment, now these guys had automatic weapons the feds and state ,it’s been happening for some years ,this was in the late 70’s

  • massvocals

    Jeff Sessions see only conformity to the law , as to cannabis statues federal CSL is lie to place cannabis there and enforce the statue as if its the worst herb known to man and complete abstaining form cannabis This is non-since , Frankly medical marijuana patients have to sign a affidavit to there state .so as to admit there in violation of federal law , Federal laws as well as well as many states do and would allow forfeiture of property ( land ,cars , boats, money . ect. just about anything . in fact there are police which i call thugs who wait and attack citizen on what they call drug highways , if you have cash its there . civil forfeiture first , then criminal next . if applies . frankly if a patient uses cannabis by state they can not uses it in hospital , nor will they continue working , gun rights are out of the question , in fact zealot police are sending letters informing citizen who are patients ( they get list form DPH ) to send or hand over there guns NO doctor license by FDA or state can really write a prescription for cannabis . what is written is a recommendation in other words doctor says yes he agrees simple ah and there are many making money hand over fist 200 a appointment for just that yes we I doctor agree , then there the doctors who fear to say yes that , and leave patients to lose there colons like me . to be or not to be a Massachusetts patient under the regulation is really not medical question , IF President Trump allows his little napoleon AG to come after cannabis patients due to federal laws written under bogus science . This which allowed our liberty to be score and attack by police nation wide , world wide really , if Trump does not stop and place the protections in the federal budget then allowing his AG to commence a law enforcement attack on cannabis in every state , our rights to vote will be shoot to hell and since the united States Constitution does not address drug law , The feds will be trespassing on civil rights , cannabis again will show what liberty is or is not

  • massvocals

    A major prohibitionist group, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union
    (WCTU) taught as “scientific fact” that the majority of beer drinkers
    die from dropsie (edema or swelling) To be honest I’m not sure
    what edema is but I still find it interesting that so many questionable
    statements are given the label of scientific fact. But has nothing to do with true
    “scientific fact” that is Jeff Session whom said gate way drug again , and good people do not used marijuana ,

    • Boogie

      The problem is that it has been assumed to be a ‘gateway drug’ since the 20’s at least. Although I’m probably even older than Sessions, those generations were very conservative, even on the left. Just happens I leaned in a different direction as many others did in the 60’s. It’s possible that thinking in those terms is just normal. He probably is just an old fashion guy who believes it’s a moral issue. Not to say he shouldn’t be educating himself to a new reality. His opinions are markedly outdated. But it doesn’t make him Satan! Lighten up on the poor misinformed old guy. Getting to the bottom of all the corruption in our country is a pretty important priority. So, for the time being, and as long as the progress continues under the radar, I’m willing to cut him some slack…….for awhile.

      • massvocals

        first comment on your conclusion that Jeff Session is not a Devil, I disagree , he is attacking peaceful people using a plant Session belief is that the law is supreme, even as the cannabis law is bogus mala prohibita law violates natural law as well , Because of people like him this situation continues , the truth be said by himself , he said ” good people do not smoke marijuana : the united States has a cannabis problem , even education would help him as he blinded by the truth like lady justice statue ….who like him holds the scales of law , he is a little Napoleon yes Satan tool for sure

        As for gate way drug, that term was used by law enforcement propaganda tool again make cannabis a devil or look bad . In fact the law enforcement establishments has for over 100 years cause nothing but lies and hell about cannabis. NOT one word of the truth in fact burying the truth or ignoring it for there sake there coffers , What we should do is remove / fire session ASAP and ignore the lies Then legalize cannabis federally for all the good it will do mainly listen up ” liberty ” it will establish liberty again The police are at war in the streets X soldiers who could not get enough that type of person kills citizens everyday they call them hero even , Please forget the 60s the old fashion or moral issue are satire , this is reality this person wants to jail imprison uses civil and criminal forfeiture refuse people employment by drug testing housing , school , all over cannabis even patients are not safe , please remember who is the priority ” WE THE PEOPLE” our vote within the states That have legalize will be nullity by jeff session as he feels federal law is supreme and supersedes state law , whe the constitution of the united States of America does not give authority to federal government over drug law within the states
        be vocals

      • Robert Johnson

        Only been ‘assumed’ to be a gateway drug due this ignorant mantra being regurgitated for so long, despite not EVER having a shred of scientific proof, just a theory they repeated enough until ppl believed it. Reefer Madness was propaganda spread to every school and church from coast to coast, to spread the misinformation about the world’s most beneficial plant. Seems CNN should do the responsible thing, and send free copies of Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentaries Weed and Weed2 to EVERY school, church, senior center, casino, bingo hall, etc, EVERY month, until the misinformation about cannabis/hemp is corrected, and those in cells for possessing this plant are freed, children returned, assets returned, and losses and pain and suffering repaired. ALL LEOs should be surrendering their toys of war, assets, retirements, pensions, and should face a grand jury for civil rights violations. To the victors go the spoils, AND I WANT MY SPOILS, because the truth is; The ONLY way I can get my honor back, my integrity back, and my self respect back, is when the oath takers have LOST THEIRS. Justice will finally prevail when, as the P.O.W.s dressed in orange exit their cells, theyre exchanging uniforms with the boys in blue as they enter them

        • Dev O

          ROBERT JOHNSON!!!!! Its an honor to speak with you sir. our music legendary and you inspired Mr. Eric Clapton to be one of the finest guitarists to walk the earth…… far. Your music (his Music) has been a source of great happiness in mine and many others lives. THANK u, THANK U, THANK U!!!!!!!!!!!! LOL
          Can U believe sir that Cannabis is almost legal AND so incredibly potent these days. a bit of a difference since your day huh?
          BEST REDARDS,
          1 of your fans

          • Robert Johnson

            I wish I was nearly as talented as that blues legend, cant pick a cord to save my life, lol. For the past 45yrs, LEOs and the DOJ have had their boots on our necks, calling us names, looking down upon us as 2nd class citizens, for failing to comply as they command. NOW, as they slowly lift their boots from our necks, theyre lifting them just high enough for us to lick them through compliance? And when we dont comply (which means DONT PAY), back on our necks with their boots, allowing them to continue to arrest, continue to steal, and continue to keep their honor and grace? I call BULLSHIT, so FUCK legalization, we need the most beneficial plant on Earh to be LAWFUL, like a dandelion, or oak tree, ANYTHING ELSE IS UNACCEPTABLE. State’s ‘legalizing’ cuz they are seeing nothing but $ IS CRIMINAL. And, NONE of our gvmt agencies deserve a cent from freeing this plant, as theyve already generated and squandered trlns, $ that couldve EASILY put soalr panels and geo thermal heating in EVERYhome in America, imagine how empowered this nation’s gr8 ppl would become overnite, if NONE of us ever had to worry about the lights being shut off, or freezing to death. Blue lives ONLY matter until weve found them guilty for felony violation of civil rights, then we should save the public expense, and rather than put them in a cage for yrs, just publicly hang ALL OF THEM who EVER harmed a citizen for engaging in their liberty, and freedoms, something they took an oath to protect. Imo, EVERY arrest for possession, should put the pig in a cage for at least a yr, if they aided in the abduction of children, seizure of property, or caused a marriage to dissolve, 20yrs for ea, because, if I had my way, Id beat em to death with baseball bats for the harm my family has endured, and I should have that right to do just that, as I never declared a war on anyone, it was waged on me, for my choice in liberty, and based on the LIES stemming from the illegal 1937 marijuana tax stamp act, where the gvmt said citizens could possess cannabis/hemp, IF they bought a stamp. Funny thing is, they nvr issued any stamps, so NO SIR, I am NOT PROUD this plant is almost legal, Im appalled its being legalized so gvmt s can generate MORE REVENUE, and NOT because its THE RIGHT THING TO DO, cuz if it were, CO, WA, OR, CA, AL, would already be releasing the POWs, and EVERY state that has a medical statute NEEDS to consider the fact that inmates may be in prison for possessing a healing herb FOR MEDICAL REASONS, not criminal

  • Mike

    I think that. despite his antipathy towards cannabis, Sessions sees the writing on the wall. He’s an evil little shit, but he’s not stupid. He knows he doesn’t have the political capital to go after the states where it has been legalized. He’d have to go after white people who have money not poor undocumented immigrants who have little power.

  • Denny

    To solve this cannabis state issue, Congress needs to revisit the hemp/cannabis laws,you can’t use a law that was written out of lies way back in the 30’s ,Congress needs to look at this