The Cole memo provided "guidance" for federal prosecutors, but since December 2014, a law has been in effect that blocks the Justice Department from spending resources prosecuting state-legal medical-marijuana businesses. Now known as the Rohrabacher--Blumenauer amendment, for two of legalization's strongest supporters in Congress, it was renewed annually until November 2017, despite Sessions' efforts to kill it. The next question is whether it will be renewed again with the spending bill that needs to pass by Jan. 19 to avoid a government shutdown.

On a conference call with reporters Thursday, a bipartisan group of pro-legalization members of Congress suggested Sessions' move may backfire. Sessions, they said, may have galvanized legalization supporters there to attempt to include recreational as well as medical cannabis businesses in the law. In 2015, such a provision fell slightly short in a 222--206 House vote. If it passed this time, it would cancel out Sessions' decision to rescind the memo.

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