Cole testified before the Senate Judiciay Committee on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 10. That very morning, Cole said, he and Attorney General Eric Holder met with various federal, state and local groups for over an hour -- to apologize and ask their forgiveness for not offering "one more opportunity for them to weigh in."
Sen. Chuck Grassley told the committee that some of those groups wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder on Aug. 30, one day after DOJ announced its new policy, complaining that their concerns about marijuana legalization had not been considered in any "meaningful" way.
"Well, we did consult with HHS (Health and Human Services Department), we consulted with DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy) -- we even heard from many of those groups who wrote that letter," Cole testified.
"The attorney general and I this morning met with those groups in the attorney general's conference room for about an hour and a half. We had received a lot of input from them concerning this matter prior to the decision that we made. We stated to them quite clearly today that we should have reached out to them one more time before we made the decision, and we apologized to them for not making that extra effort.
“We believed that we understood their position, but we've been such good partners with them that we owed them one more conversation and one more opportunity for them to weigh in. And we asked their forgiveness, and going forward, assured them that we would be giving them that kind of opportunity. So we did seek out other views in coming to this.
"We tried to be careful, we tried to be responsible, we tried to look at all of the avenues of it and attract much of the input that we got from them," Cole said. He added that the concerns expressed by the various groups helped the Justice Department develop the eight criteria that will trigger federal prosecution, even in states where it is now legal to use marijuana for recreational purposes.
On Thursday, Aug. 29, the Justice Department announced an update to its federal marijuana enforcement policy, given the 2012 ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington that legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The Justice Department said federal prosecutors would continue to "aggressively enforce" federal drug laws, but only in cases that fall into eight categories." It's called prosecutorial discretion -- the same policy the federal government follows in deciding which immigration laws to enforce and which ones to ignore.
As Grassley told the Committee, the Justice Department's Aug. 29 memo -- and the timing of it -- upset state and local law enforcement groups, some of whom wrote letters of complaint to Holder.
"These are people who see the effects of marijuana addiction and abuse every day," Grassley said. "I understand representatives of many of these organizations had asked to be consulted in advance of the Department’s decision. And they were told that they would be."
In one of the letters, representatives of national law enforcement organizations expressed "extreme disappointment that the U.S. Department of Justice does not intend to challenge policies in Colorado or Washington that legalize the sale and recreational use of marijuana in contravention of Federal law."
The letter listed some of the "negative consequences" of marijuana use. And it complained about the DOJ ignoring their concerns:
"Furthermore, it is unacceptable that the Department of Justice did not consult our organizations – whose members will be directly impacted – for meaningful input ahead of this important decision. Our organizations were given notice just thirty minutes before the official announcement was made public and were not given the adequate forum ahead of time to express our concerns with the Department’s conclusion on this matter."