Senator Says Trump Pledged Legal Pot Business Won’t Be Affected By DOJ Stance

Photo Credit: Susan Walsh

Marijuana enthusiasts were even more at ease than usual this weekend after a U.S. senator from Colorado said President Donald Trump had committed that his administration’s stated harder policies against cannabis would not affect the state’s legal pot business.

The senator, Cory Gardner, a Republican, also said in a statement Friday that “President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who said in 2016 that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” in January rescinded an Obama administration policy that largely shielded legalized marijuana from federal intervention — raising fears among advocates and marijuana businesses in states that legalized it.

“It is a pleasant surprise that he is taking action to reign [sic] in Jeff Sessions,” Adam Eidinger, co-founder of the Washington decriminalization group DCMJ, said in an email this week.

The Cole memo that Sessions rescinded in January had directed Department of Justice prosecutors to deprioritize crackdowns on large-scale marijuana business operators in states where they’ve been sanctioned. Gardner reacted by blocking nominees for DOJ positions, he said.

Gardner said Friday that he’s agreed to step out of the way of the rest of the nominees as part of his negotiation with Trump.

“Since the campaign, President Trump has consistently supported states’ rights to decide for themselves how best to approach marijuana,” Gardner said. “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.”

Sessions has a long history of opposition to the use of marijuana. Despite laws passed in states that legalize recreational use of the drug, it remains illegal under federal law.

Colorado legalized medical marijuana use in 2010, voters approved recreational use of marijuana in 2012 and the first recreational sales began in 2014. The state says it collected more than $247 million  in taxes and fees on retail and medical marijuana last year.

Eight states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — have approved laws allowing the sale of recreational marijuana, although recreational sales have not yet begun in all of those states.

Vermont’s governor in late January signed a bill into law that would authorize the recreational use of marijuana in the state, but it does not contain a mechanism for the taxation or sale of marijuana, The Associated Press reported. The legislature is expected to develop a system.

The president’s reported move comes as a number of Republicans have opened their hearts to the Schedule I  substance.

Former Speaker John A. Boehner said this month that he is joining an advisory board for a cannabis company, Acreage Holdings. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said in a tweet that “my thinking on cannabis has evolved.”

Last month Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, expressed support for legalized hemp, which is a cousin of marijuana and contains a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gets pot users high, but cultivation of which is banned under federal law.

The polling organization Gallup said in October that in 2017 for the first time a majority of Republicans — 51 percent — expressed support for legalizing marijuana. Since 2014 Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., has been the co-sponsor of annual legislation that protects state-legal medical marijuana concerns from federal crackdowns.

“That this comes during [the] same week that GOP insiders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell also endorsed far-reaching cannabis reforms shows just how far the politics of marijuana have shifted,” Tom Angell, chair of the pro-pot group Marijuana Majority, said in an email.

Legalization proponents are still wary. Trump has been known to change his mind, and Sessions is a longtime proponent of the nearly half-century long war on drugs. “It remains to be seen if the president will keep his word,” Angell said.

Mike Liszewski, a policy adviser for the Drug Policy Alliance, said that until the ink dries on the signatures on Gardner’s states’ rights bill, Sessions still poses a risk to legal marijuana users and businesses.

“Trump’s pledge to Gardner is a significant and potentially game-changing development,” he said, “but it does not necessarily mean that Sessions it no longer a threat to licensed cannabis businesses.”

“The legislation must be drafted sufficiently so it does not permit Sessions to crackdown on businesses and individuals obeying state law, and then Trump must follow through on his pledge to sign the bill if it reaches his desk,” Liszewski said. “Until then, Sessions remains a threat, albeit an increasingly weaker one.”