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California Needs to Get Its “Regulatory Act Together,” DOJ Official Says

The federal official responsible for recent government policy toward states with legal weed is stepping down, and on his way out the door, he lobbed a threat at California.

James ColeJames M. Cole, the retiring deputy to Attorney General Eric Holder, said in an October interview with The Los Angeles Times that California needs to straighten up or face federal intervention in its medical marijuana market.

“If you don’t want us prosecuting [marijuana users] in your state, then get your regulatory act together,” he said.

That’s a clear threat by the federal government to stomp on California’s MMJ program after 18 years of hands-off policy. The program has few regulations, but that hasn’t triggered such threats in the past.

Cole is largely responsible for the government’s current position on medical and recreational weed. He wrote two critical memos, one in 2011 and the other in 2013, that said the feds would not stop states that legalize, whether for recreational or medical use.

But Cole said in the interview that California needs to enact new regulations to avoid federal intervention. No other high-ranking official at the Justice Department has leveled such a threat.

California’s MMJ program is unlike most others in that regulatory matters are largely left to local governments. There has been an ongoing struggle between the industry and municipalities that seek to ban medical marijuana at the local level.

Cannabis advocates have tried repeatedly to enact new rules to keep the feds away, but police and other right-wing lobbying groups have blocked those rules every step of the way – in the hopes that medical weed would eventually be recriminalized and the Compassionate Use Act scrapped forever.

They’re living in a fantasy world, though their tactics have changed slightly. Earlier this year police and municipal groups backed an attempt at new regulations by the state Senate.

That bill ultimately died, in part because of its onerous restrictions, and neither the cops nor marijuana advocates have stepped forward with a new plan. The avowed strategy of police lobbyists is to destroy MMJ by any means necessary, despite voters’ clear intent to the contrary. That includes trying to subvert the law they were sworn to uphold.

Cole said he hopes to leave Justice by early January. The department is riddled with vacancies because of obstructionism in Congress, and it’s not clear that even Holder, who also announced his resignation, will be able to leave anytime soon.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on and

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