Memo: The Bad News We've Been Fearing Is Here

Dear Reformer:

The bad news we've been afraid of since November 2016 is here: The Trump administration, according to an Associated Press report this morning, is rescinding the Obama administration's Cole Memo, which protected marijuana legalization and allowed it to proceed.

Assuming the report is accurate, the move is the latest in a serious of disastrous assaults by the administration on areas of strong concern to drug policy reformers. As I noted in a series of fundraising emails late last year, from prosecutions to asset forfeiture to sentencing to human rights, the president and the attorney general have been pushing to ramp up the drug war.

And, as those emails noted, even medical marijuana is under threat now too after we thought we were past that. In that case it's regressive Republican committee chairs in the House of Representatives who brought that about, despite the bipartisan support there is now for medical marijuana. The president has notionally supported medical marijuana, but his attorney general asked members of Congress to undo the limited protection medical marijuana has in federal law the last few years, and some of them listened.

I am not writing today to say that all is lost -- I don't believe that all is close to being lost. We don't know yet how the new policy will play out, and reportedly it's written in a way that will leave much of the decision-making to individual US Attorneys. We have to be pessimistic about Trump US Attorney appointments, which are moving faster now, but we'll see. It's possible that federal prosecutors in marijuana legalization states will argue for a pragmatic continuation of something similar to the Cole memo, and it's possible they'll get their way. It's also possible that these officials, who tend to have higher political ambitions, will consider the polling showing massive national support for legalization, including majority Republican support.

Still, we clearly are in a time of significant threat, to the progress of marijuana legalization, and to the people implementing it on the ground. There is a significant chance that there will be federal raids on state-legal marijuana providers. It might be a few here and there to whoever was the most careless or is just the least lucky. It could be our friends who are the most politically active supporting legalization. It could be one or a few of the big players, enough to send a message in the media. Or it could be a lower profile series of measures like asset forfeiture actions and threat letters to landlords or other partners in the businesses.
David Borden
Having just gotten the news this morning, I can't tell you precisely what our strategy will be yet, but a few things are clear. One, we will be supporting the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). Two, we will be working to preserve the still current language in the federal budget that forbids the Dept. of Justice from spending money to undermine state medical marijuana laws. Pending discussions with colleagues, we tentatively will seek the expansions of that language to include state marijuana legalization systems. We will be supporting other federal legislation that would help things.

Because we're a broad issue organization not solely devoted to US marijuana policy, we will also be continuing our efforts to stop the Philippines drug war killings and to reform UN drug policy, and our other programs.

Two final notes for today: First, while I didn't intend to ask for money again so soon in the year, this news means we have to. We particularly need non-deductible contributions 501(c)(4) nonprofit, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which is responsible for the bulk of our US legislative work -- work that needs to be ramped up.

We also use non-deductible contributions to fully cover the cost of our web server and our email blast system, about $1,400 a month. The reason is to protect our ability to do reporting on candidates for office, after an IRS ruling a few years ago on web sites shared by an organization's 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) entities. 2018 is an important election year, and we need to continue covering these costs that way.

If you haven't already, I hope you'll consider signing up for a recurring donation to sustain into the future. Our online donation forms support a range of different options, including monthly but also on different schedules ranging from every two weeks to annually. Of course one-time donations are greatly appreciated as well. We accept donations online by credit card and PayPal -- starting later today or tomorrow, we'll also have ACH that you can use with your checking account. Thank you to those of you who have donated recently.

The second is, I'm going to note that while most drug reformers are not fans of the current White House, there are some who are. We respect the diversity of opinions found in the drug policy reform movement on the larger political questions of our time. Realistically, however, we see the current administration as being strongly opposed to our movement's objectives, at least much of the time, and our movement therefore as resisting the administration's efforts.

We hope that our readers will support us in our opposition to the Trump administration. We are not interested in obstructionism for its own sake, however; if the administration takes positive steps on our issues, we'll acknowledge those too.


David Borden, Executive Director
P.O. Box 9853, Washington, DC 20016

(This article was prepared by's 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Congressional Budget

What about the budget rider Congress passed that prevents the DOJ from spending money on marijuana enforcement in legal states? That's still in effect until Congress repeals it regardless of what the DOJ wants to do.

borden's picture

Tony, the rider only protects

Tony, the rider only protects medical marijuana, and it has to be renewed from year to year to stay in effect. It has stayed in effect as part of the continuing resolutions Congress has used to avoid a government shutdown. But for the first time since it was first passed, the rider was not allowed to get to a vote in the House of Representatives. It did pass the Senate. Its fate is in the hands of budget negotiators and the conference committee that will reconcile the House and Senate budget bills. If the budget gets put off again by a continuing resolution, there's a likelihood that the rider will continue as part of a continuing resolution, but there's no guarantee. And if the government shuts down for lack of even a CR, the protection will go offline for the duration of that.

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