Denver mayor calls Jeff Sessions 'out of step' with America over pot policy change

Key Points
  • Denver Mayor Michael Hancock worries Jeff Sessions move on the Cole Memo will endanger marijuana business investment, city tax revenue and release more cash into the streets.
  • He joins others in criticizing Sessions' approach, calling him "out of step" with America.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Trump marijuana policy: It has given uncertainty in this billion-dollar industry

In wake of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' repeal of Obama era guidance on legal marijuana, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is more worried about the marijuana business than he is about a law enforcement crackdown on weed.

"When we see an industry, that is dependent upon investors, people who are putting their hard-earned money into the industry, this sort of move does not help whatsoever," Hancock, a Democrat, said Friday on CNBC's "Closing Bell." "All this move does is demonstrate how out of step the attorney general sessions is and the administration is with the rest of the country."

Sessions, a longtime opponent of marijuana legalization, on Thursday moved to rescind the Cole Memo, a document which de-prioritized the use of federal funds to enforce cannabis prohibition. The memo effectively handed control of marijuana enforcement and regulation to the states, except in certain circumstances.

Sessions' decision sent pot stocks tumbling Thursday, fueling fears it would damage burgeoning marijuana industries in many states.

"We've already had conversations with our attorney general, as well as our acting U.S. attorney, who clearly have said they're not going to change anything with regards to the industry here in Colorado," Hanckock said.

Colorado, where recreational cannabis has been legal since 2012 and medical for much longer, has a lot more to lose than some states. In 2016, the state topped $1 billion in legal weed revenues, allowing the government to bring in more than $193 million in fees and tax revenues, according to Department of Revenue data.

Hancock said Denver reaps about $18 million to $20 million in tax revenue just from recreational marijuana. That money goes toward implementing marijuana regulation, including inspections, law enforcement and public education, all of which Hancock worries might disappear following Sessions' decision.

"Cities also fall into this uncertain category, when you have the attorney general acting as irresponsible as he has acted with regards to the memo," Hancock said.

Investment and taxes aside, the ground-level industry is very cash heavy. Even with the Cole Memo, banks and credit unions operating under federal charters had little incentive to help cannabis businesses, which are still federally illegal, according to a representative from the Colorado Bankers Association.

"What we would hope our attorney general would do to work with Congress, begin the process of working on a pathway to banking for this industry," Hancock said.

Hancock is part of a growing chorus of prominent voices against Sessions' decision. On Thursday, Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner vowed to hold up Justice Department nominations until Sessions changes his marijuana policy.