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Friday, March 2, 2018

The Jeff Sessions Era Begins in Michigan - by Tim Beck

Tim Beck

Chairman of the Safer
Michigan Coalition

On January 4, a hammer from Washington DC hit the anvil.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to the surprise of some and the expectation of others; rescinded the famous Cole Memo which instructed US Attorney's across the USA to respect state decisions to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. The Cole memo was the creation of former President Barack Obama. Gutting the memo means federal attorneys anywhere in the USA can prosecute violators of federal marijuana laws anywhere, any time, at their discretion.

What does all of this mean for medical marijuana patients, caregivers and canna businesses in Michigan?

 Theoretically, it means all medical patients, caregivers, dispensaries, or legal grow operations are at risk of being busted down the road, unless federal law changes for the better. As of this writing we are safe; at least until March 23rd since the old federal budget restricts funding for federal prosecution of medical marijuana. The proposed new Trump budget, if it is passed as expected, does not contain such protective language. That is when the federal noose can tighten and choke.

Will such a thing really happen in Michigan?

Well, that all depends upon the whims of Michigan's interim United States Attorney's Matthew Schneider of the Eastern District in Detroit and interim United States Attorney Andrew Birge of Michigan's Western District, whose headquarters is in Grand Rapids.

The Eastern District consists of the counties of Alcona, Alpena, Bay, Cheboygan,Clare, Crawford, Genessee, Gladwin,Gratiot, Huron, Iosco, Isabella, Jackson, Lapeer, Lenawee, Livingston, Macom, Midland, Monroe, Montmorency, Oakland, Ogemaw, Oscoda, Ostego, Presque Isle, Roscommon, Saginaw, St. Clair, Sanilac, Shiawassee, Tuscola, Washtenaw and Wayne.

 All other counties in Michigan, including the entire upper Peninsula are in the western district.

Matthew Schneider and Andrew Birge were appointed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions this January, as "interim" appointees for the next 120 days, pending a presidential nomination and confirmation by the US Senate of a successor. Whichever comes first.

Prior to his elevation, Mr. Schneider was chief of staff to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

When questioned as to how he will enforce federal marijuana laws, he told  Frank Beckmann, on WJR Radio, that his office "will review marijuana cases in terms of where those cases fit within our priorities and our limited federal resources. In every criminal case, we will rely on the Justice Departments long-established principles of federal prosecution, as all US attorneys have done
since 1980."

As far as Matthew Birge, chief of the western district is concerned, he too was appointed by Jeff Sessions to an "interim" role. Unlike Mr. Schneider, he has refused to make any comment about marijuana to the media. Two calls and voice mail messages to Birge's press spokesperson Kay Hooker, by MMM Report Magazine, were not acknowledged or returned.

Since 2007 Mr. Birge served as chief of staff to western district US Attorney's Donald Davis, Charles Gross and Patrick Miles Jr. Schneider and Birge's responses to the marijuana question were not unusual.

In a survey by "Cannabis Business Times" of all thirty states where medical or recreational cannabis is legal, 21 of the 50 US Attorney's questioned refused to make any comment. Most other statements were very carefully worded, similar to Mr. Schneider's response--- which can be interpreted to mean practically anything, good or bad.

Nonetheless, at a conference in Portland, Oregon on February 2nd, attended by some US Attorneys, state officials and cannabis industry representatives to discuss Sessions new policy there seemed to be a consensus. Specifically, nothing too radical will happen to canna businesses operating strictly according to state law. However, anything else could mean big trouble.

The consensus was described in an article published on February 8 by the "National Law Review" which covered the Portland event. That is "a crackdown on illegal overproduction in states where cannabis is legal and a focus on reducing the amount of cannabis being diverted to states where it is illegal " is all but guaranteed to happen.

Finally, in what could be a hopeful development, US Senator Cory Gardener (R-Colorado) agreed to partially end his blockage of Justice Department nominees. Gardener said he was lied to by AG Jeff Sessions who indicated prior to his Senate confirmation,  there would be no change in federal policy regarding the right of states to do things their way when it came to the cannabis issue.

According to the Associated Press (AP) on February 15, Senator Gardener had talks with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstien and he has been pleased with negotiations so far. Department leaders have "shown good faith in their willingness to provide what I think will be hopefully the protections we sought and as a good faith gesture on my behalf, I will be releasing a limited number of nominees" Gardener said.

So what is the real deal in Michigan so far?

Between now and March 23rd federal budget approval deadline, nothing changes. Beyond that, anything else is pure speculation.

Interim US Attorney's Matthew Schneider and Andrew Birge hold all the cards. It is their call as to what if anything will be done. They do not have lots of resources and they cannot expect to have any support from local police or prosecutors who only enforce state law. Come what may, the Michigan medical marijuana caregiver system is still intact and it is impossible for federal authorities to root it out. In a worst case scenario, medicine may not be as readily available as it is now, but it will still be there.

And oh yes. Mark my words. The vast majority of Michigan voters do not like this federal interference one bit. They will say YES to full blown legalization of cannabis in Michigan this coming November. That will only make the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency's (DEA) job
even tougher.

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