The East Coast is being crushed by a blizzard as I write this. Winter has arrived on the back of 70 mph winds, bringing record coastal flooding and piles of snow along for the ride. Along the Eastern Seaboard, over 4,000 flights have been canceled and 2,000 delayed. In Boston, a historically high tide has brought frigid ocean water rolling through the streets. In Florida, Iguanas are falling out of trees, frozen solid by the arctic blast and piling up next to the lawn chairs and swimming pools like discarded lizard-sicles.
The sudden weirdness is caused, they say, by a weather pattern known as a “bomb cyclone.” It happens when a mass of warm air meets a mass of cold air, and the rotation of the earth causes a cyclonic effect, causing barometric pressure to drop and pushing cold air into the country from the northeast.
I can feel my staunchly guarded agnosticism being tested as half the nation is seemingly punished by the hand of an angry and unreasonable god. Is it a coincidence that the storm worked up immediately after Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo about cannabis policy for the Department of Justice? As a reporter, I have to say that the facts just aren't in, yet.
But I wouldn't be surprised. Sessions' memo has shaken the entire American media machine, it seems. Every outlet is currently screaming and pulling out their hair over the whole damn thing. My phone started ringing Thursday morning and I was wading through panicked voices wondering if the dispensaries were going to be open Friday.
Exactly the type of confusion that old codger wanted, I'm sure.
The memo doesn't change any laws or alter the federal legality of cannabis. What it does is reverse a policy dictated by the Cole Memorandum, a document drafted by former Deputy Attorney General James Cole that instructed federal prosecutors in states where cannabis is legal to only intervene if the local government failed to implement certain policies like preventing distribution to minors, creating laws that prevent driving while under cannabis' influence, keeping cannabis from crossing into states where it isn't legal and other stipulations.
In a statement, the DOJ said the memo was “announcing a return to the rule of law and the rescission of previous guidance documents.” In it, Sessions instructs prosecutors and law enforcement officials to “follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions … These principles require federal prosecutors deciding which cases to prosecute to weigh all relevant considerations, including federal law enforcement priorities set by the attorney general, the seriousness of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution, and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community [italics mine].”
In effect, this is untying the hands of federal prosecutors and allowing them to begin prosecuting cannabis cases in states where it's legal if they so choose. Does that mean they will? Not necessarily, but if I was trying to open a cannabis shop in California right now, I'd be plenty nervous.
But—lucky for us—the memo has no effect on New Mexico's medical program, seeing as how the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment still blocks the DOJ from using any funds to go after medical cannabis. The people who are actually in trouble here are the citizens of states where its been fully legalized for recreational use—like Colorado, Washington and California. Now it seems their freedom to enjoy the fruits of democracy will hinge on a few prosecutors' senses of social duty.
But the memo will most certainly have some effect on our state. At the very least, it sends the clear message that Sessions is serious about keeping recreational cannabis illegal, making it that much harder to convince anyone on the fence that New Mexico should legalize this year. And the constant reminders from the DOJ that we're all just a pen stroke away from serving prison sentences isn't helping the industry's already sketchy footing when it comes to attracting investment and support.
What's good about all this is the bipartisan support for cannabis that's been seen in response to the news. Within hours, a whole gang of potential Democratic nominees for the next presidential election publicly blasted Sessions for the move, as chronicled by The Washington Post. And even leaders of the GOP, possibly smelling the turn of public opinion, have turned against him, pointing out that it's completely contrary to President Trump's supposed support of states' rights—a political talking point that carried serious weight for Republicans during the 2016 election.
And something to keep an eye on will be the Trump administration's reaction to this over the coming weeks. It's being said that taking such drastic steps to counter popular opinion could cost the next election for the GOP, and in an interview with CNN, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said Trump was being “betrayed” by Sessions. Compound that with recent calls from prominent Republicans for Sessions to resign over his mishandling of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and we might not be hearing too much from Sessions anymore.
Soon, the Trump administration will start claiming that Sessions is on a personal vendetta against cannabis, and that it runs contrary to Trump's selfless efforts to protect states’ rights et cetera, et cetera. And the end result: An entire party scared shitless of working against cannabis. I hope, I hope.
Personally: The whole shebang has left me feeling particularly wounded, since I promised myself I'd stop talking about the little gremlin so much. My wife has taken to calling him my “boyfriend,” and it irks me something fierce.