Routt County Commissioners sign letter telling Jeff Sessions to respect states’ marijuana industries
January 16, 2018
Elected officials in Routt County are starting to sign onto a letter urging U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to respect the marijuana industries in Colorado and any other states that legalize use of the drug.
All three county commissioners in Routt County have signed the letter, which is being sent in response to a recent policy announcement from Sessions that appeared to remove some protections local governments used to have against a potential federal crackdown on their marijuana industries.
Commission Chairman Tim Corrigan noted that while Routt County itself has a moratorium on marijuana operations, Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Oak Creek all have some level of legalized marijauana-related operations within their borders.
"The Routt County Commissioners have strongly supported those towns in their efforts to take advantage of this growing industry," Corrigan said in an email expressing support for the letter.
Of all the cities and towns in Routt County with a stake in the growing marijuana industry, it would likely be Oak Creek that would feel the most pain if the federal government cracks down on legal weed.
The small town reportedly now has 40 residents working in the marijuana industry at seven licensed locations in the South Routt County town.
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The industry there includes four different manufacturing operations and a retail store.
"It's substantial," Town Manager Mary Alice Page-Allen said of the industry's impact on Oak Creek.
She said the industry has increased sales tax and electric utility revenues and also helped the town fund a school resource officer position.
"We're seeing an additional $20,000 over the last three years of sales tax directly attributable to manufacturing," she said. "I have seven locations with 14 different licenses."
Page-Allen and others in Routt County are paying attention to the national headlines about Sessions’ announcement that he was giving federal prosecutors more leeway to crack down on legal marijuana.
The Denver Post reported Jan. 4 that while the announcement might not have immediate impacts on the marijuana industry, it had "set off a political firestorm in Colorado."
The Post noted some Republicans in the state were accusing the Trump administration of trampling on the will of the state’s voters, who legalized recreational marijuana for adults in 2012.
The letter to Sessions signed by Routt County commissioners expresses concern about the recent policy announcement and stresses that the elected officials think states "must have the right to chart their own course on marijuana."
The letter also called on Sessions to convene a bipartisan task force to look into aligning federal and state cannabis laws and also hold off on initiating any new enforcement actions against licensed marijuana operations that are following state and local laws.
Steamboat City Council members were expected to discuss the letter at a work session late Tuesday evening.
Read the full text of the draft of the letter below:
The Honorable Jeff Sessions
United States Attorney General
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20530
Attorney General Sessions,
We write as local elected officials from across the United States to share our concern regarding the signal you have sent with your rescission of the Cole Memorandum and related Department of Justice guidance. Local and state governments, including many of ours, have been working under the direction of the Cole Memo since 2013 as our jurisdictions license and enforce cannabis regulations. The Cole Memo outlined important public safety protections while providing clear direction to our jurisdictions.
The policy set forth in the Cole Memo was intended to ensure public safety – that cannabis stays out of the hands of children and not get diverted across state lines. It also directed states to closely monitor cannabis businesses to ensure that unsavory individuals were not operating in the legal marketplace. The guidance documents also provided a path for banking, helping to curtail the public-safety risks of an all-cash industry. Local governments were given the assurance by the Department of Justice that the enforcement of prohibition-era federal cannabis laws would not be prioritized if we followed the directives of the Cole Memo.
Your decision earlier this month to revoke the Cole Memo eliminated these safeguards, which were put in place to protect public safety in our communities. Your decision also created uncertainty for our local governments by leaving federal enforcement decisions up to each individual U.S. Attorney, resulting in what could be selective and unfair enforcement. Of greatest concern, however, is the sheer confusion felt by local officials who now face governing in a chaotic environment. While it may have been the intention to spark uncertainty for legal cannabis license holders across the nation, it also created significant confusion for local governments in thirty-one states and territories where they have comprehensive programs regulating the licensing, land-use, enforcement, and taxation of this industry.
The signatories on this letter have varying opinions about the legalization of cannabis generally. And, for many of us, our views have evolved over time. Ultimately, though, we all agree that we must follow the directive of our citizens; and that states must have the right to chart their own course on cannabis. Americans have gone to the ballot box in states and communities several times supporting legalizing cannabis for medical or adult use. Most recent polling indicates that more than ninety percent of Americans support legalizing medical cannabis; and six in ten, including a majority of both Democratic and Republican respondents, support legalizing cannabis for adult use. Notably, polls have also found that more than seventy percent of Americans want the federal government to respect all state marijuana laws. This nation's beginnings can be traced to a ragtag bunch of renegades tossing tea into the Boston Harbor because a large distant government wasn't listening to its populace. In this case, the public wants this decision left up to states and localities. And, similarly, our bottom line is that we believe this is simply a states' rights issue. Each state should be able to decide for themselves their own policies regarding cannabis.
We do agree with you on one critical item: the discrepancy between state and federal law regarding cannabis is a legitimate concern. To address this concern, we suggest the convening of a bipartisan and bicameral task force to explore aligning federal and state cannabis laws. While this task force is convening, we would request that the Department of Justice not initiate new enforcement actions in situations where operators are following state and local regulations. This would provide certainty to the basic operations of local governments across the country.
We welcome your feedback or questions; and we hope that we can work together to help solve this problem. Solving problems is exactly what local governments are doing across this country every day.