Nevada leaders expressed cautious optimism Friday after Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner announced a pact with President Donald Trump to help protect states that have legalized marijuana.
Gardner, who represents a state with legalized recreational marijuana, had vowed in January to block all of Trump’s nominations to the Department of Justice after Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked the Cole Memo — Obama-era guidance that gave states some comfort that federal prosecutors wouldn’t target state-legal marijuana industries. In a statement, Gardner announced he was lifting that blockade — a significant impediment in a Senate where Republicans hold a thin 51-49 majority — because Trump told him Colorado would be spared.
“Late Wednesday, I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry,” Gardner said in a statement that was first reported by The Washington Post. “Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all.”
The Nevada Dispensary Association, one of the state’s major marijuana industry trade groups, said the movement appeared to be positive. Marijuana businesses operate under the specter of a possible federal crackdown because the substance that’s legal at the state level is illegal federally.
"While we are not privy to the specific details of the deal between President Trump and Senator Gardner that has been reported in the news, our members are encouraged by any developments at the federal level that recognize Nevada’s right to continue a high regulatory standard,” NDA Executive Director Riana Durrett said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with Senator Gardner and Nevada’s Congressional delegation on issues important to Nevada businesses and consumers."
Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto commended Trump’s step and said she’d work to ensure the commitment to Colorado also extends to states including Nevada.
“I’m encouraged President Trump is showing a new willingness to revisit his Attorney General’s decision to rescind the Cole memorandum,” she said. “The rescission of the Cole memo targeted states like Nevada where voters and legislatures chose to legalize and regulate the use of marijuana. I’m working to ensure President Trump’s commitment to Colorado is honored for every state that has chosen to legalize the marijuana industry.”
But Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, who’s active on marijuana issues in the House, expressed skepticism about whether Trump would keep to his word.
“It is hard to take this President at his word considering how often he changes his positions,” she said in a statement. “His own Attorney General tore up the Cole Memo leaving Nevada and other states at risk of federal interference.”
Republican Sen. Dean Heller garnered criticism from some Nevada marijuana advocates, including state Sen. Tick Segerblom, for not taking a stronger stance against the rescission of the Cole Memo. Had he committed to a similar blockade as Gardner, any of Trump’s DOJ nominees would fail a party-line vote because even Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote couldn’t score Republicans a Senate majority.
Heller’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment about Gardner’s announcement on Friday. At the time the Cole Memo was revoked in January, he didn’t promise a standoff and instead encouraged more dialogue on marijuana issues.
“Knowing Attorney General Sessions’ deference to states’ rights, I strongly encourage the DOJ to meet with Governor [Brian] Sandoval and Attorney General [Adam] Laxalt to discuss the implications of changes to federal marijuana enforcement policy,” Heller said in a statement provided to the Las Vegas Review-Journal at the time. “I also urge the DOJ to work with the congressional delegations from states like Nevada that have legalized marijuana as they review and navigate the new policy.”