Baker Institute expert available to discuss US, global drug policy developments


David Ruth

Jeff Falk

Baker Institute expert available to discuss US, global drug policy developments

HOUSTON — (Jan. 5, 2018) — Thursday marked an eventful day in drug policy domestically and abroad: While Attorney General Jeff Sessions made an announcement rescinding Obama administration guidelines that said the federal government would not enforce marijuana prohibition laws in adult-use states, the Australian government said that it was legalizing overseas exports of cannabis products for medical uses.

Credit: University

Katharine Neill Harris, the Alfred C. Glassell III Fellow in Drug Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, is available to discuss these developments with media.

“Sessions rescinded federal guidelines that protected cannabis users and businesses from federal prosecution in instances where such activity was legal under state law,” Neill Harris said. “The Obama-era guidelines, often referred to as the Cole memo, effectively allowed states to develop legal cannabis programs without fear of federal interference. The memo provided legal cover for businesses and investors who may otherwise have shied away from involvement in an industry that is in violation of federal law. The change in guidelines was expected; Sessions has been clear in his opposition to cannabis reform.”

But the decision goes against preferences of states’ rights advocates, as well as the decisions made by voters in states that have legalized cannabis, Neill Harris said. “The impact of the change is unclear at this time; because discretion is left to individual U.S. attorneys, it is possible that enforcement of federal laws will vary significantly by state and region, further exacerbating the patchwork-like nature of cannabis laws across the country,” she said. “One reason to think that enforcement may not increase significantly is that such action would require diverting resources away from other operations. It is also likely that the majority of enforcement efforts that do take place will be directed toward businesses, rather than individual consumers. One impact of the announcement that is already clear is that it has created uncertainty among cannabis businesses in states where they operate legally, and it is possible that it will cause other states to be more cautious about implementing cannabis programs. Still, the change is unlikely to stop the progression of cannabis reform in the long term.”

Australia’s decision to legalize the exportation of medical cannabis highlights how the medical cannabis market is growing, Neill Harris said. “The move will likely have positive effects for the Australian medical cannabis market, increasing profits for the industry and increasing access for patients. Countries already export other drugs and medicines, so it makes sense that some would want to add medicinal cannabis to the list of export products. Medical cannabis exports and imports are regulated by the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board; exportation of cannabis for adult (recreational) use is currently prohibited. Exporting countries are also typically required to comply with rules and regulations set by importing nations. Canada and the Netherlands are currently the two largest medical cannabis exporters.”

Neill said the U.S. does not engage in the importing and exporting of medical cannabis, since medical use is still prohibited by federal law. “If this were to change, the U.S. would potentially be a large player in the international medical cannabis trade, both as a consumer nation and as an exporter of high-quality medical cannabis.”


The Baker Institute has a radio and television studio available for media who want to schedule an interview with Neill Harris. For more information, contact Jeff Falk, associate director of national media relations at Rice, at or 713-348-6775.

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Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks among the top five university-affiliated think tanks in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at or on the institute’s blog,

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.