Feds and pot: Local law officials expect confusion but not raids

FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2017, file photo, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going after legalized marijuana. Sessions is rescinding a policy that had let legalized marijuana flourish without federal intervention across the country. That's according to two people with direct knowledge of the decision. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision Thursday to reverse the federal government’s hands-off approach to marijuana in states where the drug is legal will sow confusion but likely won’t result in raids on legal dispensaries or an uptick in individual possession charges.

That’s according to two law enforcement leaders in the Roaring For Valley, who both questioned Sessions’ decision Thursday.

“I’m paying attention to that news and asking a lot of questions about what it means from our perspective,” 9th Judicial District Attorney Jeff Cheney said. “I’m confused about the future.”

Cheney, a Republican, said he doesn’t think Sessions’s rescinding of an Obama administration memo that set a non-interference policy in legal states will mean federal law enforcement officers will begin targeting dispensaries or individuals in Colorado or the Roaring Fork Valley.

“When you look at the practicality of what that would look like, there just isn’t the manpower to do that,” he said.

And if federal police agencies can’t treat everyone equally and raid all dispensaries, that brings up issues of possible arbitrary actions, which also are problematic, Cheney said.

“That’s why I think Congress will have to get involved,” he said. “It seems like Congress is going to have reaffirm the law … or revise it and evolve with the changing expectations of folks.

“That’s probably the only thing that will eradicate the confusion.”

Cheney said he agrees with Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who posted a message Thursday on Twitter saying that rescinding the memo “directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation.”

“With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states,” Gardner wrote on Twitter.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo also applauded Gardner.

“I never thought I’d say this,” DiSalvo said, “but I’m proud of Cory Gardner.”

Like Cheney, DiSalvo said he doesn’t know how the federal government can fight with the millions of people who live in the eight states that have legalized recreations marijuana. That includes California, population 39 million, where recreational marijuana became legal Monday.

“There’s probably 60 million people in those states,” he said. “They’re going to have a hard time doing this.”

Realistically, DiSalvo said he doesn’t see federal agents coming to Pitkin County and raiding dispensaries or citing people for marijuana possession. He said he hopes federal agents will focus on black market marijuana grows and trafficking across state lines.

“I hope they’ll look for rogue growers and rogue dispensaries,” DiSalvo said. “I wouldn’t have a problem with that.”

Cheney echoed those comments, saying he hopes federal agents will help his office and other law enforcement agencies concentrate on illegal growhouses and stopping marijuana from traveling outside the state.

Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor did not return a phone message Thursday seeking comment about Sessions’ action.

On Thursday, U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer, who represents Colorado, issued a statement saying that his office will be “focusing in particular on identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state.”

DiSalvo said he wishes that instead of focusing on marijuana, the federal government would steer resources toward combating the opioid epidemic in the United States.

“To focus on something states have overwhelmingly passed is not a good use of time or resources,” he said. “I think this is a big step backwards for this administration.”