DENVER – Attorney General Jeff Sessions wasn’t swayed to immediately change his mind about his decision to rescind the Cole Memo after Wednesday’s meeting with Sen. Cory Gardner despite the Colorado Republican’s threat to withhold Justice Department nominees.
“I think the meeting kind of went as I expected it to,” Gardner told Denver7 after the Wednesday morning summit. “I shared my states’ rights position with Attorney General Sessions, and he shared his concern about the Cole Memorandum and why he rescinded it, and he also reiterated that the US attorneys will be in the position to make these determinations.”
Sessions agreed to meet with Gardner Wednesday after Gardner loudly balked at the decision to rescind the 2013 memo that protects states where marijuana is legal from extraneous federal enforcement.
Gardner has also told Sessions he will hold up Justice Department nominees until Sessions took a step back, though he admitted Tuesday that if the nominees have “overwhelming support” that it would “be difficult to stop them.”
Gardner said after Wednesday’s meeting he would still be holding up those nominees, saying he still has the same concerns he has voiced over the past week.
“My concern is that there is a lack of transparency when it comes to priorities at the Department of Justice, how those will be carried out, and that we now have…50-plus US attorneys…who are going to be making decisions that may be at odds with other states,” Gardner told Denver7 Wednesday.
“So I think there needs to be greater transparency and greater certainty, and I am worried what it means to the impact, what it means on states’ rights,” he continued.
U.S. Attorney of the District of Colorado Bob Troyer responded to the new guidance last week by saying his office already focused on the black market and stopping marijuana from getting to children in Colorado.
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has been in touch with Troyer and said that she believed the new guidance meant local federal prosecutors would continue to focus on gray and black markets and diversion, and that it wouldn't mean agents would be targeting businesses abiding by state laws and legitimate operators in the state.
Still, Gardner said Wednesday he still had concerns about the U.S. attorney general’s actions despite the reassurances from Troyer and Coffman.
“Well I think if you listened to what the attorney general said, there’s nothing to worry about; there’s nothing to see here,” Gardner said. But I think if you look at what they’ve done, is they’ve empowered non-state officials to be in charge of a states’ rights issue. And so I think that creates an unacceptable level of uncertainty and a patchwork approach to this area of law that provides too much uncertainty and too much of a lack of clarity when it comes to states’ rights.”
Gardner reiterated that Sessions had promised that marijuana enforcement wouldn’t be a priority ahead of his attorney general confirmation hearing, where Gardner voted in favor of the former Alabama senator.
He also met Tuesday with 12 senators from across the country to talk about possible fixes in Congress, as well as several members of Colorado’s congressional delegation.
“We’ll be looking at the appropriations process next to see what can be done through the funding of the Department of Justice,” Gardner told Denver7 of next possible moves. “Obviously that will lead to further discussions about longer-term legislation that needs to be put in place. And quite frankly, pushing for legislative hearings on this overall issue so that Congress can be better informed to make better decisions.”
Gardner’s Democratic Senate counterpart, Michael Bennet, along with a bipartisan panel of members of Congress from Colorado have also both pushed Sessions in recent days to take back his decision to rescind the Cole Memo. All, like Gardner, say that the new guidance goes against what President Trump said ahead of his election.
“The question that ought to be answered is why does Jeff Sessions have a difference of an opinion from the president of the United States in this matter,” Gardner reiterated Wednesday. “And I think that’s something that needs to be clarified, because I do think that the administration and the White House are on a different page here.”
Gardner said he hoped to continue to the discussions with the Justice Department, and hoped to include colleagues from both parties in future talks.