Memo allows US attorneys discretion in prosecuting states with legal medical and personal use cannabis

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he will revoke a federal Obama-era mandate, raising questions about the future of legalized marijuana.

The end of the Obama-era “Cole Memo” mandate, which leaves states with legalized cannabis alone, may put the current legalization movement in jeopardy.

According to the Washington Post and numerous other sources, Sessions sent a memo to US attorneys on  Jan. 4, noting the federal prohibition of marijuana.

Sessions undid four Obama administration memos that eased federal restrictions in states that have legalized cannabis for both medical and personal use.

Sessions granted state attorneys the “discretion” when weighing charges in marijuana cases.

Sessions announcement comes just four days after California legalized pot for public sales as of Jan. 1, a move considered by many experts to possibly sway other states’ decisions.

Rep. Helene Keeley, D-N. Wilmington, who has co-ponsored SB 110 – a comprehensive cannabis legalization bill – said she has not seen the entire memo and would prefer to read it before making a statement on how it could affect legalization in Delaware.

She questioned the arrival of the announcement in the middle of the budgetary session, with funding from states allowing medical and personal cannabis possibly being affected by the repeal.

“You have states – conservative states, like Arkansas and Ohio, you don’t get much more conservative than that – with legalized medical marijuana,” she said. “And basically this memo, if it’s true, is telling them they’re not allowed to operate those either, so how does that dwell for them?”

Keeley is also co-chair of the 25-member Adult Use Cannabis Task Force, which since September has been researching and studying how legalized cannabis would look in Delaware.

Its final report is due to the House in late February.


According to, Republican Colorado Sen. Cory Gardener said that Sessions “lied” to him in regards to his marijuana policy.

“I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation,” Gardener said via Twitter following the announcement.  

“This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation. With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states.”

Kevin A. Sabet, a former Obama Administration drug policy adviser and current head of anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana called the move a good day for public health, and a block for those profiting from “Big Marijuana.”

“DOJ's move will slow down the rise of Big Marijuana and stop the massive infusion of money going to fund pot candies, cookies, ice creams, and other kid-friendly pot edibles. Investor, banker, funder beware,” Sabet said.


The “Cole Memo” was crafted in August 2013 by then US Deputy Attorney General James Cole, and published by the Department of Justice.

In the memo, Cole outlined a new set of priorities for federal prosecutors when trying marijuana cases.

The memo was modeled after a similar memo by former Deputy Attorney General David Ogden directing state attorneys in western states not to focus federal resources on prosecuting marijuana cases in pot-friendly western states.

Massachusetts is preparing legislation of pot sales, and New Jersey’s incoming Democratic governor Phil Murphy has promised to legalize marijuana within six months.

An October 2017 Gallup Poll showed 64 percent of Americans now saying its use should be legal, the highest percentage in nearly half a century of tracking the situation.