President Trump immediately rebuked then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the day that he rescinded Justice Department guidance on federal marijuana enforcement priorities, Senator Cory Gardner revealed during an interview on the Cannabis Economy podcast earlier this month.
Following a meeting on trade and tariffs in the Oval Office, Gardner pulled Trump aside to express his opposition to the rescission of the Obama-era cannabis document known as the Cole Memo. But before he could finish his sentence, the president interrupted to say “we need undo this” and “[Sessions] needs to stop this.”
“It was very clear to me at that point that there was a disagreement between the president and the attorney general on this,” Gardner said. Trump also said, “I don’t like this, this isn’t something I support,” but that it was too late to reverse the decision.
“This sounds like something my grandpa said in the 1950s,” was an exact phrase the president used, per Gardner’s recollection.
“At that point I realized that there was an ally in the president on this.”
In response to Sessions’ decision, Gardner started blocking Justice Department nominees until he received assurances that the federal government would not take enforcement action against legal cannabis businesses operating in compliance with state laws. That blockage prompted a subsequent phone call with the president, who said there was one nominee in particular he wanted to confirm.
Gardner explained why he was holding nominees, to which Trump replied, “OK, you’ve got my commitment to support the bill, you’ve got my commitment to support a solution on this,” referring to bipartisan legislation Gardner and Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced to exempt state-legal marijuana activity from enforcement under the Controlled Substance Act.
Trump later told reporters that he “really” supports the legislation, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States (STATES) Act.
During his conversation with the president, Gardner cautioned that states like Colorado would be put in jeopardy if the Justice Department followed through on Sessions’ threats. But Trump said, “we’re not going to do that, it doesn’t mean anything.”
“That was the commitment from the president not only on showing that he’s going to disagree with Jeff Sessions, but actually saying, ‘don’t worry about what he’s done because it won’t impact Colorado,’ and then moving forward down for a solution,” Gardner said.
Sessions resigned from his position at the president’s request in November, and the Senate confirmed his replacement, William Barr earlier this month. Barr was repeatedly pressed about how he would approach federal cannabis policy during his confirmation hearing and in follow-up questions, and he made consistent pledges not to use Justice Department resources to “go after” state-legal marijuana businesses.
He did, however, encourage Congress to resolve conflicting federal and state cannabis laws through legislative action.