Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said in an angry speech from the Senate floor Thursday that President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had gone back on their past commitments to respect states’ individual marijuana laws, and that he would be tying up DoJ nominations until Sessions “lives up to the commitment that he made to me.”
“I will be putting today a hold on every single nomination from the Department of Justice until Attorney General Jeff Sessions lives up to the commitment that he made to me in my pre-confirmation meeting with him, the conversation we had, that was specifically about this issue of states’ rights in Colorado,” the senator said.
Gardner’s efforts to hold up nominations would continue until an Obama-era policy, the Cole Memorandum, is reinstated, he said. The Cole Memorandum stated that federal prosecutors would practice a hands-off approach when it came to state marijuana laws, accommodating a wave of pro-marijuana legislation at the state and local level.
Sessions nixed the Cole Memorandum Thursday, saying that future marijuana-related prosecutorial decisions, even in states where it is legal at various levels, would be left to individual U.S. attorneys, Politico reported.
“Up until about 8:58 this morning, we believed in Colorado that states’ rights would be protected,” Gardner said at the top of his floor speech.
He said Sessions had promised him, prior to Sessions’ winning confirmation as Trump’s attorney general, that “there were no plans to reverse the Cole Memorandum.”
“Then-Sen. Sessions told me that marijuana simply wasn’t going to be on President Trump’s agenda, that it was something that they weren’t going to deal with, something that President Trump simply wasn’t going to focus on,” Gardner said.
“That was back in the spring of 2016, and up until 8:58 this morning, that was the policy,” Gardner continued. Thursday’s announcement, the senator said, marked “a complete reversal of what many of us on the hill were told before the confirmation, what we had continued to believe the last year, and — without any notification, conversation or dialogue with Congress — completely reversed.”
In addition to the private commitments Gardner said Sessions had made, Sessions said publicly, early in his tenure, that he would likely not pursue a change in the Cole Memorandum.
“The Cole Memorandum set up some policies under President Obama’s Department of Justice about how cases should be selected in those states, and what would be appropriate for federal prosecution, much of which I think is valid,” he told reporters in March, according to a transcript provided to TPM at the time by DoJ spokesperson Peter Carr.
“I may have some different ideas myself in addition to that, but essentially, we’re not able to go into a state and pick up the work that police and sheriffs have been doing for decades,” Sessions added in March.
On Twitter, Gardner referred to a quote from Trump during the campaign that “it’s up to the states, absolutely,” referring to state marijuana laws.
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) January 4, 2018
“We were told that states’ rights would be protected,” by Sessions and then-candidate Donald Trump, Gardner emphasized in his speech today.
“What has changed President Trump’s mind that the Cole Memorandum would be reversed and rescinded?” Gardner asked. “I think the people of Colorado deserve to have that answer.”
Correction: This article initially misstated Sen. Cory Gardner’s party affiliation. He is a Republican.