What is the Cole Memo?

April 18, 2017

The “Cole Memo” is a term we often hear thrown around in our industry, but a lot of people don’t recognize the significance of this Memo and how it relates to the cannabis industry.  So what is the Cole Memo?  In short, the Cole Memo is the only thing standing between the legal cannabis industry and federal enforcement, so needless to say, it’s pretty important.

In 2013, Colorado and Washington began implementing legal, regulated cannabis industries in their respective states after voters approved the measures to tax and regulate the growth, distribution, and sale, of the plant and its byproducts.  However, cannabis was and still is federally illegal, so for states to embark on this journey means they’re technically breaking federal law, including the customers and business owners who choose to participate in the industry; risking themselves, their freedom and their businesses.  State and federal governments were at a crossroads; either start pursuing strict federal enforcement, encroaching on the rights of the people who voted for it as well as the states who are obligated to serve the people and uphold those rights; or find a happy medium so we can all get along.

In August 2013, then-Attorney General, James M. Cole, issued a memorandum to all U.S. Attorneys, which was published by the Department of Justice, setting expectations for the federal government, state governments, and law enforcement, on how to address states that had voted for, and implemented, legal adult-use cannabis programs.  In summary, the Cole Memo told states: if you implement a strict regulatory framework and employ a seed-to-sale tracking system to monitor the growth, distribution, and sale, of regulated cannabis to prevent diversion and create a transparent, accountable market, the federal government will leave it alone.

The Cole Memo told states that prosecutors and law enforcement should focus on the following priorities to avoid federal interference:

  • Prevent distribution of cannabis to minors
  • Prevent cannabis revenue from funding criminal enterprises, gangs or cartels
  • Prevent cannabis from moving out of states where it is legal
  • Prevent use of state-legal cannabis sales as a cover for illegal activity
  • Prevent violence and use of firearms in growing or distributing cannabis
  • Prevent drugged driving or exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with cannabis use
  • Prevent growing cannabis on public lands
  • Prevent cannabis possession or use on federal property (national parks, government property, etc.)

Considering all of these guidelines must be met to avoid federal interference, it seems unlikely that a state could perfectly enforce all of these regulations without some help.  That’s where companies like BioTrackTHC come into play.  We offer a comprehensive, compliant cannabis seed-to-sale traceability system to licensed commercial cannabis businesses, as well as government regulatory bodies, to provide transparent inventory management and seed-to-sale tracking data, which offers accountability to all of the cannabis activity of a licensed cannabis business.  A lot of people think that systems like ours only exist to create extra work and track and trace all of the cannabis activity to help the government keep tabs on businesses and their customers; while we do help certain state governments to track and trace cannabis activity, all of that information is kept confidential to the respective state regulatory body and is never shared with the federal government.  The truth is, systems like ours are the only reason the cannabis industry is able to exist as long as cannabis is still considered a schedule I drug by the federal government.

With recent comments from the Trump administration, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future of the industry.  However, with Jeff Sessions recently stating that there is, “validity to the Cole Memo,” all we know for sure is that the safest way to participate in this unpredictable industry is by remaining compliant to the Cole Memo through strict tracking and inventory management.  Any failure to follow the Cole Memo guidelines could mean the end of the cannabis industry in a given state.  Our industry has come too far to risk it all by being noncompliant.

As we anxiously await the Trump administration’s stance on legal cannabis, you can keep up with each state’s latest cannabis legislation on our Cannabis Bill Tracker page.

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2017-05-14T22:46:43+00:00