AG Garland Signals That Department of Justice's Cannabis Policy Will Be "Very Close" To Cole Memorandum
Thursday, March 16, 2023

In his March 1, 2023 testimony before the United States Senate, Attorney General Merrick Garland indicated that the Department of Justice's (DOJ) marijuana policy will harken back to 2013, when then-Attorney General James Cole issued what became known as the "Cole Memo." The Cole Memo carved out eight enforcement priorities that DOJ identified as "particularly important," including prevention of distribution of marijuana to minors, revenue from flowing to criminal enterprises, the use of marijuana activity as a front for other illegal acts, and violence or threats to public safety. Otherwise, Attorney General Cole wrote, the federal government intended to rely on state and local law enforcement to address cannabis under their own regulatory schemes.

This hands-off approach guided the federal government's marijuana enforcement efforts until Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo in 2018. Not much changed following rescission, but the cannabis industry welcomed President Biden's announcement in October 2022 indicating prior federal offenses for simple possession of marijuana should be pardoned and requesting that the Department of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General initiate an administrative process to revisit marijuana's classification under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug.

AG Garland's testimony brings us full circle back to 2013, and may indicate that the AG does not intend to recommend de-scheduling marijuana.


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