Colorado, Oregon, and Washington In Violation of Most Department of Justice Guidelines Designed to Keep Federal Enforcement At Bay;
Marijuana Policy Group Delivers Report to Attorney General Jeff Sessions Urging Smart Response to Any Enforcement Policy Change Currently Under Review
(Alexandria, VA) – On the four year anniversary of the “Cole Memorandum” – the Obama-era guidelines allowing marijuana legalization in some U.S. states – Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to advancing evidence-based marijuana laws and led by a former Obama-appointed official released a new report demonstrating that states with legal marijuana have failed to meet U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) rules designed to keep federal officials from enforcing the Controlled Substances Act in states with legal marijuana. The report, entitled “The Cole Memo: 4 Years Later” is the first comprehensive census of open source information measuring state compliance of the eight rules designed to keep federal officials from interfering in state markets.
According to the report, the three states with the most established retail marijuana markets – Colorado, Oregon, and Washington – have failed to meet at least 7 of the 8 compliance guidelines in the Cole Memo. Most notably, states with legal sales have failed to prevent distribution of marijuana to minors, the trafficking of marijuana to other states, and the production of marijuana on public lands. Additionally, drugged driving is increasing and criminal enterprises are continuing to exploit the legal market as a cover for a wide array of criminal activity. DOJ’s “hands off” enforcement posture is contingent on states meeting these requirements “on paper and in practice.”
“This report reveals that states are failing miserably to hold up their end of the bargain when it comes to controlling their legal market for marijuana,” said Kevin Sabet, President of SAM. “Unfortunately for states, the red line tripping increased federal enforcement doesn’t factor in favorable public polling or increased tax revenue – it relies on state’s promises to protect public health and safety as enumerated the 8 guidelines in the memorandum. And by these measures, states have demonstrably failed keep their promise. As Attorney General Sessions considers what actions to take on marijuana enforcement, we urge him to be smart on crime, not just tough on crime, and to continue to focus any federal resources wisely. Individual, non-violent drug users shouldn’t be targeted for enforcement, but clearly DOJ can play an important role in weighing in to make sure profits and revenue don’t trump public health and safety when it comes to marijuana. It’s time for states to stop playing politics and start fessing up to the real challenges they face.”
Below are some key findings from the report demonstrating violations of Federal rules:
DOJ Guideline 1: “Preventing distribution of marijuana to minors”
- According to data from the State of Washington, there have been over 240 violations of legal marijuana sales to minors and of minors frequenting restricted marijuana sales areas as of July 2017. Additionally, research shows youth marijuana use in the state increased between 2010-2012 and 2013-2015. In Colorado, past-month use of marijuana among 12-17 year olds increased significantly – from 9.82% to 12.56% after marijuana retail sales began. The same study notes that teens and adults in Colorado now use marijuana at a higher rate than the rest of the country.
DOJ Guideline 2: “Preventing revenue of the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels”
- In March, 2017, a leaked report from the Oregon State Police uncovered evidence from state officials that the black market for marijuana continues to thrive in the state. In June 2017, a massive illegal marijuana trafficking ringwas discovered by law enforcement officials, stretching into Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, Ohio and Oklahoma.
DOJ Guideline 3: “Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states”
- Law enforcement officials in Nebraska and Oklahoma have reported a substantial increase in marijuana flow across state borders into neighboring states. According to data from law enforcement officials, since legalization in 2012 Washington State marijuana has been found to be destined for 38 different states throughout the United States.
DOJ Guideline 4: “Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity”
- According to Jorge Duque from the Colorado Department of Law, cartels operating in Colorado are now “trading drugs like heroin for marijuana,” and the trade has since opened the door to drug and human trafficking. In Oregon, State Police officials report that criminals are exploiting Oregon’s legal cannabis industry for financial crimes and fraud.
DOJ Guideline 5: “Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana”
- While crime rates dropped or remained stable in many of the nation’s largest cities, Colorado crime increased – driven by a rise in rape, murder, robbery and auto thefts. In Oregon, state police report that, “Cannabis is a lucrative target for robbery.”
DOJ Guideline 6: “Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other public health consequences associated with marijuana use”
- According to a study published by the American Automobile Association, fatal drugged driving crashes doubled in Washington after the state legalized marijuana. A 2017 study from the University of Colorado found that marijuana-related emergency room visits and visits to its satellite urgent care centers by teens in Colorado more than quadrupled after the state legalized marijuana. In Washington State, poison control calls for marijuana rose between 2012 and 2016.
DOJ Guideline 7: “Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana on public lands
- In Washington State, 373,778 marijuana plants were found growing illegally on public and private lands between 2012 and 2016. Of the illegal marijuana plants eradicated in 2016, 60% were being cultivated on state land. In June 2017, Colorado officials found more than 7,000 illegal plants on federal land in the state’s San Isabel National Forest. This was the fifth illegal grow found in that area alone since the year marijuana legalization passed, demonstrating legalization has not curbed the problem of grows exploiting public lands. In Oregon, the legalization of marijuana in the state has failed to eliminate illegal growing operations and public lands continue to be exploited despite a legal market.
DOJ Guideline 8: “Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property”
- Advocates for legal marijuana frequently flout federal laws by possessing and using marijuana on federal properties purportedly in acts of civil disobedience. In January 2017, one group gave away free marijuana in Washington, D.C. to smoke on the National Mall during the inauguration of President Trump. On April 24th, four activists were arrested after purposely flouting federal law and publicly using marijuana on U.S. Capitol grounds.
In response to continued violations of federal guidance, SAM is recommending that Attorney General Sessions take measured action to successfully protect public health and safety. Limited Federal resources should used to target the big players in the marijuana industry who are circumventing DOJ guidance and state regulations. That means that individual marijuana users should not be targeted or arrested. But it does mean that large-scale marijuana businesses, several of which now boast of having raised over $100 million in capital, and their financial backers should be a priority. SAM also recommends that the federal government create a national, evidence-based prevention campaign to educate Americans on the harms of today’s highly potent marijuana.