DENVER – President Donald Trump has promised to support legislation protecting the marijuana industry in states that have legalized the drug, a move that could lift a threat to the industry made by the U.S. attorney general just three months ago.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., on Friday announced that Trump made the pledge to him in a Wednesday night conversation.
Gardner has been pushing to reverse a decision made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January that removed prohibitions that kept federal prosecutors from pursuing cases against people who were following pot laws in states such as Colorado that have legalized the drug.
Marijuana has been fully legalized in eight states, and 24 states allow some form of marijuana use.
“President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all,” Gardner said in a statement Friday.
Washington voters legalized recreational marijuana the same year as Colorado, and officials there have been pushing Sessions and other members of the Trump administration for assurances that its state-licensed marijuana businesses will not be subject to federal enforcement.
Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson have written to Sessions requesting a meeting over state and federal disagreements over legalized marijuana, but no meeting has been set up. They did, however, meet with other officials from the Department of Justice last year.
On Friday, Ferguson said he was “cautiously optimistic” after hearing Trump reportedly offered support for states having the right to regulate marijuana.
“The president appears to have heard the will of the people on this issue,” Ferguson said in a news release.” “But this president has demonstrated a willingness to go back on his word. Until there is a formal agreement protecting Washington’s well-regulated marijuana industry, I will continue to stand ready to defend it.”
Inslee’s office has not received any word on a change in marijuana policy from the White House, spokeswoman Jaime Smith said. But if accounts of Trump’s conversation with Gardner’s are correct, “that’s reassuring,” she added.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Gardner’s account was accurate and the president supported states’ rights in the matter.
Gardner used his power as a senator to prevent consideration of any nominees for the Department of Justice after Sessions made his announcement.
Gardner allowed some nominees to proceed in a “good-faith” gesture last month. On Friday, he said he was fully releasing his holds on nominations.
Gardner and the Department of Justice have been in discussions for months to get the holds lifted. Gardner has met with Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the official overseeing the Russia probe who has been the target of Trump’s ire.
During the campaign, Trump said states should be able to chart their own course on marijuana.
Gardner said he was blindsided by the move by Sessions, a longtime critic of the drug.
Gardner said he hopes to introduce bipartisan legislation keeping the federal government from interfering in state marijuana markets.
Spokesman-Review reporter Jim Camden contributed to this report.
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