Federal government begins crackdown on state law-abiding marijuana dispensaries, customers

The inside of Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals. Video and pictures taken by a medical marijuana card holder and employee.

The federal government will no longer look away when it comes to marijuana sales in some states. On Thursday, the Justice Department announced that it will enforce marijuana laws, even in states that have legalized the drug for medicinal or recreational uses.

United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo from 2013 on Thursday. The Cole Memo essentially said that the federal government wouldn't enforce marijuana laws in states that allowed the drug, as long as they weren't doing things like selling to minors. Sessions' signature takes the Cole Memo away.

New Mexico resident Lauriann Cowder doesn't like to take traditional medicine.

"I have PTSD, I have high anxiety, I have lower back pain,” Crowder said. "I don't even take Advil when I'm sick."

But she says marijuana helps, so she visits Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals in Las Cruces.

"Nowadays I believe education in this whole industry has changed,” said Eleazar Rivera, product specialist at Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals.

New Mexico State Rep. Bill McCamley has medical marijuana dispensaries in his district, District 33. He does not support the attorney general's decision.

"These are real issues and real people that are leading better lives because they're using cannabis,” McCamley said. “And what Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions said today is, 'we want to throw you in jail.'"

Former U.S. Attorney General James Cole issued his memorandum in 2013.

"It said, ‘as long as people don't violate one of eight different things, selling to minors, growing on federal property, that sort of thing, that we're not going to mess with you,’” McCamley explained.

Effective immediately, Sessions has changed that.

"I'm not very happy about that,” Crowder said. “That's why I got my card, so I wouldn't get arrested for it. So I could be legal."

"We [Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals] will continue to follow the Cole Memo at the moment, because that's pretty much what we can do,” Rivera said.

"With those protections gone, we just don't know what these Trump people are going to do, and it's important for us to fight it,” McCamley said.

The mayor of Las Cruces disagrees. While he does support medicinal marijuana, he tells CBS4 he is against states allowing recreational marijuana use. He sent CBS4 the following statement:

"I believe what AG Sessions is doing, is looking to stop or reduce others states from passing recreational marijuana use, which is something I would support,” Mayor Ken Miyagishima wrote in an email.

"So now I still have to worry if I walk out of this building, I'm going to get arrested upon leaving here with my medicine,” Crowder said.

The president of the El Paso NORML, or National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, sent CBS4 the following explanation of the Cole Memo:

The Cole Memo was a document originally drafted by former US Attorney General James M. Cole in 2013. Cole issued a memorandum to all US attorneys that was published through the Department of Justice on August 29, 2013. The memo indicated that prosecutors and law enforcement should focus only on the following priorities related to state-legal cannabis operations:
Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors;
Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.

“It stopped the attack on people/businesses that were following state law and only allowed focus on those breaking state law,” writes El Paso NORML President Colt DeMorris.

DeMorris tells CBS4 he wants people to contact their legislators and let them know they don't support Sessions' actions.

Note: Video and pictures taken inside of Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals were shot by a medical marijuana card holder and an employee of the dispensary. Our CBS4 reporter was not allowed in the "green room" because she is not a card holder.

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