A new open letter from four governors makes a case to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to maintain existing guidelines on the enforcement of federal cannabis law. The Governors ask the two cabinet members to “engage with us before embarking on any changes to regulatory and enforcement systems.”

Photo by: Susan Walsh

Photo by: Susan Walsh

The letter just so happens to be signed by the governors of the first four states to allow recreational cannabis sales; Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Governor Bill Walker of Alaska, Governor Kate Brown of Oregon, and Governor Jay Inslee of Washington. The Governors’ letter also calls on Sessions and Mnuchin to stick with Obama-era guidelines on law enforcement and financial oversight in states with provisions for medical or adult cannabis use.

The letter reads:

“Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences. Changes that hurt the regulated market would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states. Likewise, without the (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) guidance, financial institutions will be less willing to provide services to marijuana-related businesses.”

The Cole Memo sets guidelines for the federal government to allow states to proceed with legalization, so long as certain federal priorities, such as keeping cannabis away from minors and from crossing state lines, are followed. The letter also calls on Mnuchin to preserve the Treasury Department’s FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) guidelines that allow banks and financial institutions to do business with companies following state law with regard to cannabis.

They continue:

“Twenty-eight states, representing more than 60 percent of Americans, have authorized some form of marijuana-related conduct. As we face the reality of these legalizations, we stand eager to work with our federal partners to address implementation and enforcement concerns cooperatively. The Cole Memorandum and the associated FinCEN guidance are critical to the success of any collaboration.”

On Monday, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s cannabis policy advisor Mark Bolton said in a statement:

“Any forced change in federal enforcement policy will interrupt the collaborative approach we have taken with local law enforcement and the federal government. Our hope is that we can continue working with the administration to build on a regulatory system that prioritizes protecting public safety and public health.”
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Conventional wisdom might tell us that seeing an old-school prohibitionist appointed as Attorney General, the nation’s highest ranking law enforcement officer, might represent the end of the line for legalized cannabis. In fact, many of Attorney General Session’s statements on the matter are certainly of concern. But it is important to take into account the outpouring of support from other powerful corners of our government, including members of congress, and now governors. Jeff Sessions’ distaste for cannabis may run deep, but support for the plant is larger than ever before.


The letter can be read in its entirety here.