Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner says he struck a deal with President Donald J. Trump that would protect states’ marijuana laws from federal interference.
As part of the deal, the Republican senator agreed to lift his blockade on U.S. Department of Justice nominees — a hold put in place following U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ rescission of Obama-era guidance on marijuana.
Gardner says Trump pledged support for a legislative fix to the federal-state conflicts raised by marijuana laws implemented across the country.
Update: Sen. Cory Gardner shares details of marijuana deal forged with Trump
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that Gardner’s account was accurate and the president supported states’ rights in the matter, the Associated Press reported.
Gardner’s office released the following statement Friday morning:
“Since the campaign, President Trump has consistently supported states’ rights to decide for themselves how best to approach marijuana. Late Wednesday, I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry. Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all.
“Because of these commitments, I have informed the Administration that I will be lifting my remaining holds on Department of Justice nominees. My colleagues and I are continuing to work diligently on a bipartisan legislative solution that can pass Congress and head to the President’s desk to deliver on his campaign position.”
The White House’s director of legislative affairs told the Washington Post — which broke the news Friday about the Gardner-Trump agreement — that the president “does respect Colorado’s right to decide for themselves how to best approach this issue.”
The agreement also provides a much-needed reprieve from the ongoing bottleneck of DOJ nominees, Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short told the Washington Post.
“Clearly, we’ve expressed our frustration with the delay with a lot of our nominees and feel that too often, senators hijack a nominee for a policy solution,” Short told the Washington Post. “So we’re reluctant to reward that sort of behavior. But at the same time, we’re anxious to get our team at the Department of Justice.”
How did we get here?
During his presidential campaign, Trump expressed support for states’ rights and indicated that he would not interfere with states such as Colorado that chose to legalize cannabis.
On Jan. 4, almost a full year into Trump’s presidency, Sessions announced the marijuana policy shift, which freed federal prosecutors where marijuana is legal to decide how to enforce federal marijuana law.
Gardner took to the Senate floor shortly after Sessions’ announcement, calling the move a trampling of Colorado’s rights and announcing he would withhold support for Justice Department nominees until the policy dispute was resolved.
The senator’s fiery speech helped score him a Jan. 10 meeting with the attorney general, however no progress was made, Gardner told the Post.
“I don’t think there was anything new in the (Jan. 10) discussion about (Sessions’) position, other than he doesn’t think that he’s changed anything,” Gardner said. “But clearly what he did (Jan. 4) was, I don’t think, the same commitment that he gave us prior to (his) confirmation.”
Op-ed: What to make of Cory Gardner’s feud with Jeff Sessions
A month into his blockade, Gardner was still standing firm in his vow to jam all appointments — even as Sessions blamed the Republican senator for holding up the confirmations of key figures, including the heads of the department’s national security, criminal and civil rights divisions.
Gardner had said his remaining holds on other DOJ nominees would continue as he works toward a solution that protects Coloradans’ rights.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
This story is developing and will be updated.