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Thursday, November 22, 2018
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Cole Memo: Why Jeff Sessions is right on marijuana enforcement


U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week rescinded what is known as the “Cole Memo,” which states the federal government isn’t going to chase marijuana prosecutions in states where it’s legal.

It was the policy of the Obama administration to not interfere in states where pot has become the newest business on the block. The Alaska D.C. delegation and the governor of Alaska posted their objections to Sessions’ move. Sen. Lisa Murkowski called the move “regrettable.”


[Read: Quote of the Day: Sen. Dan Sullivan on Cole Memo]

The governor went all “me-too-state’s-rights” on the Trump Administration.

But Must Read Alaska differs with our delegation and governor. Here’s why:

The Cole Memo, like it or not, was Swamp Law, a product of the Deep State, where law is promulgated through memos and regulations, without Congress’ involvement. It’s a chicken’s way of getting around lawmakers.

Jeff Sessions has a point: The Cole Memo amounted to law. Laws should not be made via memo. Laws should be made by Congress.

Pot businesses who depend on one memo for their legality know they are out on a limb, and yet they’ve pioneered ahead, hoping that eventually legal marijuana will be settled law. The Cole Memo never did that, but only prioritized federal law enforcement.

The marijuana industry’s hair went on fire over the Sessions move last week, and their stocks stumbled, but all the attorney general really said is that it’s still up to federal prosecutors to decide whether to prosecute marijuana crimes in states where its use is legal. He did not call for any specific action to be taken. He just tore up the Cole Memo.

Under Article II of the Constitution, the executive branch is obligated to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” But resources have to be prioritized in law enforcement, so the effect of unwinding the Cole Memo is unclear.

What does Alaska’s U.S. Attorney say he’ll do?

He was intentionally vague. Bryan Schroder said he’ll follow federal law enforcement priorities. Drug enforcement is one of those priorities. He didn’t say whether he views marijuana in that drug category, and he left himself as much wiggle room as politically possible.

Eight states and the District of Columbia allow recreational and commercialized cannabis. Alaska is one of those states. Since the advent of legal commercialized cannabis, it’s been one of the only (ahem) growth areas in a bleak Alaska economy.


The chair of the Alaska Marijuana Control Board quit last week after the reversal of the Cole Memo.

The now-former chairman, Soldotna Chief of Police Peter Mlynarik, served in the board’s seat reserved for law enforcement, and said if marijuana was ambiguously illegal, he might find himself in an odd position of having to arrest someone for selling pot at a licensed establishment.

Who will replace him? The board makes the policy that is having profound impacts on local governments and is reshaping communities, as pot stores are pop up across the state. It’s an important public service to serve on this board. People with a public safety background may apply for this seat.

The next seat that will open up is the public health seat now occupied by Juneau resident Loren Jones.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Peter Mlynarik is a weasel the worst of all law enforcement establishment could have in its institution! Now why would one think this, well this is my reasoning, Peter swore an Oath originally then came to this board by and under his own will in full knowledge of the Federal law regardless of any direction the wind is blowing and what memos mean or did he? If in fact he now recognizes the law as it is with or without a memo, he is and always had a duty to enforce it. Now he knows that what he did in creating regulations in disregard of the LAW, he would make him through his duty, would make he an culpable defendant right along with anyone he may arrest! This kind of action makes him a hypercritical and immoral person… The Man now should resign law enforcement completely or suffer the law he swore to enforce. If he doesn’t he is in fact a weasel. Weasels normally run in the direction of rotten meat to eat it.

  • I would be interested in serving the state in this capacity. I think the state needs people who are willing to be unbiased, open-minded and fiscally minded. I was a substance abuse counselor before I had to leave work for medical reasons. I have the heart and mind for civic duty of some sort just need to find the right spot and go for it. I was the ASAP administrator for a while in Juneau, worked in the half-way house as well as TCCC (aging myself) and LCCC.

  • Hurray for Jeff Sessions! I cannot figure out where all the sane voters were when pot became legal in Alaska. This detestable law needs to be repealed. Between legal pot and the growing crime and homelessness in our city, Anchorage is becoming a seedy and unattractive place, to say the least. I urge the feds to enforce US laws to the hilt.