While Attorney General Jeff Sessions was busy publicly reminding America just how much he hates marijuana legalization—facts, data and public sentiment be damned—federal law enforcement officials with Sessions’s Justice Department were probing pending marijuana-related court cases in Colorado, the International Business Times is reporting.
This revelation came Friday courtesy of the IBT’s David Sirota, who obtained an email exchange between one of Sessions’s people and Colorado officials. The one-page email is brief and is only an information request, but it’s one of the first concrete signs of federal interest in state-level cannabis under the Trump era. Which means it’s guaranteed to make marijuana industry types worried about a job-killing federal crackdown a little more nervous.
“Are you able to provide me the state docket numbers for the following cases?” a Denver-based DEA agent asked a Colorado state prosecutor on March 6, according to the email exchange, obtained via a public-records request. “Some of our intel people are trying to track down info regarding some of DEA’s better marijuana investigations for the new administration. Hopefully it will lead to some positive changes [emphasis ours].”
As IBT noted, the exchange came about two weeks after White House press secretary Sean Spicer first raised the specter of “greater enforcement” around legal marijuana on Feb. 23. The next several weeks were full of public sabre-rattling from Sessions, who sought counsel from the attorney general of nearby Oklahoma—one of the litigants of a (failed) lawsuit filed against Colorado for the purposes of shutting its marijuana industry down—before comparing marijuana unfavorably to heroin.
So what does this mean—and is it a sign of impending cannabis armageddon, preparation for the first shots in an all-out federal marijuana war? If you allow us to speculate (and you have no choice in the matter), we believe this email is fairly innocuous, and the answer to our rhetorical question is no.
The cases referenced by the DEA are ongoing prosecutions. These are situations in which the state of Colorado, where marijuana is legal, has identified illegal activity pertaining to marijuana. We don’t know what cases the DEA agent is asking about—Sirota and IBT do not say—but we suspect it stems from one of the many multi-agency raids from last year.
The DEA was a partner agency on at least a few of them, but all of them targeted illegal cultivation and interstate marijuana trafficking. Twenty more sites were raided by DEA agents working with local law enforcement in mid-March, 10 days after the email, but a DEA spokesman told the AP at the time that those raids were in the works for “months” and did not have anything to do with a Trump-era directive
However, the DEA agent is asking for publicly available information—which is exactly what a DEA agents did in San Francisco in 2011-2013. In California, DEA agents requested public records about city-licensed marijuana dispensaries; in some cases, a few months later, the landlords of those dispensaries received letters from the local U.S. attorney, informing them that the marijuana stores needed to be closed, otherwise the landlords’ property could be seized and the landlords thrown in jail.
Many did close, though no operators were arrested. But that was about the worst it ever got for legal marijuana under the Obama administration, which largely gave up on state-licensed cannabis dispensaries after Colorado and Washington legalized adult-use marijuana in November 2012.
But back to the present. Sessions also allowed himself a candid slip when he admitted that neither he nor all the 4,000 DEA agents in the world are enough to stop legal cannabis.
Seven states have legalized adult-use marijuana, and more than 40 allow some form of medical cannabis. It’s too little, too late—but as we’ve said before, this doesn’t mean that there won’t be a few more drug war casualties just before the eleventh hour. Or merely plenty Sessions-induced paranoia, which—for now—this email exchange is a part.