This week, State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg wrote to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions seeking clarity on the federal government’s “intentions” before the state “commit[s] significant public resources to implementing Massachusetts’ recreational marijuana laws.” She’s not alone on seeking clarity as Attorney General Sessions’ public and reported statements have been anything but consistent and specific (see here and here and here, but also here).
It is wise and prudent for Treasurer Goldberg to seek as much information as possible as she establishes the regulatory and licensing framework for adult use of cannabis. There is no argument there. But, what does the Treasurer really expect to gain from this correspondence? That the DOJ will rush to write back with its full blessing to implement a program that is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act? The best case scenario would be for the administration to clarify that the Obama-era Cole Memorandum (stating that federal intervention in states that have established strong regulatory systems for the regulated sale of cannabis is unlikely to advance federal criminal enforcement priorities) remains the law of the land. With this administration, while the Cole Memorandum may well remain the guiding policy, I wouldn’t expect a splashy announcement to that effect.
The cynic in me questions whether the Treasurer is laying the groundwork to slow-roll implementation of the adult use law by writing this letter or has some other strategic tactic in mind. It is worth noting that following Attorney General Sessions’ comments about cannabis legalization last month, Attorney General Bob Ferguson of Washington announced that the state “would use every tool at its disposal” to fight federal intervention. The Attorney General of California and state lawmakers in Nevada made similar public statements. Our Attorney General has thus far not joined her counterparts in other adult use states in making such pronouncements. Stay tuned.