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Nevada senators call on Sessions to respect states’ rights regarding marijuana

Updated March 2, 2017 - 4:57 pm

Both U.S. senators from Nevada asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week to let the state regulate itself when it comes to recreational marijuana.

In letters sent to Sessions’ office, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., asked the new head of the Justice Department to preserve the Cole Memorandum — an Obama administration directive that instructed federal law enforcement to take a hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement in states that legalized its use and sale.

The letters come on the heels of comments from Sessions and White House press secretary Sean Spicer made over the last week that hint at a surge in federal marijuana enforcement. While recreational use is legal in Nevada and seven other states, marijuana is illegal on a federal level.

In the letter dated Wednesday, Heller called on Sessions to follow the states’ rights mindset the attorney general has adhered to for much of his political career.

“In light of recent statements regarding a possible change in federal marijuana enforcement policy and knowing your views about and deference to states’ rights, I respectfully ask that you preserve the Cole Memorandum,” Heller wrote.

The Cole Memorandum, according to Heller, allows the Justice Department to focus on the most egregious violators of federal drug laws.

On Thursday, Cortez Masto and 10 other senators, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, sent Sessions a similar letter.

“It is essential that states that have implemented any type of practical, effective marijuana policy receive immediate assurance from the DOJ that it will respect the ability of states to enforce thoughtful, sensible drug policies in ways that do not threaten the public’s health and safety,” the letter said.

The Department of Justice declined to comment when asked this week what enforcement could be in store for states with legal marijuana. The department did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Nevadans approved recreational marijuana by a 55-45 vote in November, and possession of the drug has been legal since Jan. 1. The state said it expects temporary recreational sales could begin July 1.

Despite his personal doubts about recreational marijuana use, Heller said he wants to respect the voters’ will.

“While I maintain that, unlike medical marijuana, I have serious concerns on whether or not the benefits of recreational marijuana outweigh the drawbacks, I recognize and respect the will of Nevadans.”

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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