Senate Leader Calls on Congress to Respect State Cannabis Laws

Friday, January 12, 2018

SACRAMENTO – California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) issued the following statement in response to recent changes in federal law enforcement directives with respect to cannabis:

“Once again, the President and Republicans in Congress have chosen to trample on states’ rights and ignore the will of Californians by threatening voter-approved cannabis laws.  For decades, Congress has perpetuated the failed war on drugs by neglecting to pass sensible national drug policy reforms. Millions of Americans have been harmed by this disastrous and misguided approach, and states have been left to clean up the mess.

“Next week, Congress has an opportunity to mitigate the damage it has caused and begin to restore some semblance of states’ rights in our country.

“First, Congress should extend the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment as part of the spending plan next week. We should not waste limited law enforcement resources to interfere with the implementation of voter-approved state laws governing medical cannabis.

“Second, Congress should direct Attorney General Sessions to reinstate the “Cole Memo,” the federal directive that states have relied upon since 2013, which sets clear and reasonable enforcement priorities for federal prosecutors.  Reinstating this direction will in fact keep our states safer by ensuring limited resources are appropriately directed to the law breakers Mr. Sessions seems so concerned about.

“Will Congress and the President respect states’ rights or will they continue to waste our precious time and resources on an unjust, ineffective and discriminatory witch hunt against cannabis? Will they choose to respect thoughtful state regulations that test, permit, and supervise cannabis to protect public health? Or do they prefer to criminalize otherwise law-abiding Americans and drive lawful businesses underground?

“The American people would be far better served if the Attorney General prosecuted the international conglomerates responsible for the opioid epidemic – which kills tens of thousands of people each year – with the fervor he reserves for cannabis.​”


On January 4, 2018, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the “Cole Memo.” Issued by US Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole in August, 2013, the Cole Memo governed federal prosecution offenses related to cannabis.  Specifically, the memo instructs the Department of Justice to “not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

Law since December, 2014, the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment prohibits the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws.  The amendment is set to expire January 19th unless Congress votes to reauthorize it.

Congress must reach a deal to fund the government by January 19th to avoid a government shutdown. This process is one of the few remaining in which Democrats can exercise leverage despite Republican control of both chambers of Congress and the White House.