WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is abandoning a Justice Department threat to crack down on recreational marijuana in states where it is legal, a move that could enable cannabis businesses in California and other states that have legalized pot to operate without fear of federal raids and prosecution.
President Donald Trump personally directed the abrupt retreat, which came at the behest of Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado. White House officials confirmed the policy shift Friday. Trump did not inform Attorney General Jeff Sessions in advance of the change in policy, an almost unheard of undermining of a Cabinet official.
Gardner was incensed in January when the Justice Department announced that it was rescinding an Obama-era policy that directed federal prosecutors not to target marijuana businesses that operate legally under state law. The senator had blocked Justice Department nominees in retaliation.
In conversation with Trump this week, Gardner said he was assured that the federal government would not interfere with his state’s marijuana industry and that Trump would champion a new law that gives states the authority to set their own pot policies. In response, he lifted his remaining holds on nominees.
“Late Wednesday, I received a commitment from the president that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry,” Gardner said, referring to the Obama-era policy, named after former Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, who issued it.