Entrepreneurs in 29 states who have been growing, testing and selling marijuana are now wondering: will President Trump’s Attorney General really divert resources from justice department priorities like stopping terrorism and dismantling gangs, to shut down neighborhood pot shops? These businesses have been operating under the Cole Memorandum which kept the Justice Department from prosecuting marijuana companies that were operating legally under their own state laws. Attorney General Sessions announced he was rescinding that memo.
Sessions’ decision directly contradicts President Trump’s statements on the campaign trail supporting federally-legal medical marijuana and supporting states’ rights to make their own decisions for other adult use.
“It goes against what over half the states and half the population of the country have voted to support,” said Jeffry Paul, Vice President & Director of Sales for Cannabiniers, a company that makes “BrewBudz,” coffee, tea and cocoa infused with cannabis.
“President Trump’s platform was about creating jobs,” Paul said, and this industry “is creating thousands and thousands of jobs.”
The decision also defies the realities on the ground. More states have been expanding marijuana legalization and are collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in cannabis tax revenues. California just opened a legal market that is expected to grow to five billion dollars in sales when it becomes fully operational. The majority of Americans approve of some form of legalization which can make the supply of the substance safer, and reduce the criminal and violent activity that can otherwise accompany it.
Charles X. Gormally and John D. Fanburg, attorneys at the New Jersey law firm Brach Eichler, are studying cannabis regulation possibilities in New Jersey. They say that Sessions’ stance is a “fraught with legal contradictions,” and likely to be more symbolic than practical. They believe their state should go ahead with careful legalization.
“There is not enough prosecutorial energy or funding to pursue the industry at this point, and Congress will never provide the resources, so at this point no Attorney General would be able to put those 29 genies back in their bottles,” said Fanburg.
Still, without any details about how enforcement might be carried out, the industry is feeling a chill. “This is going to slow down investment in one of the fastest growing industries,” said Paul.
Many in the marijuana business are taking a wait and see approach, carrying on with business as usual. Laura Bianchi, Director of Cannabis, Business/Corporate Transactions and Estate Planning Departments at Scottsdale’s Rose Law Group says she advises clients to keep focusing on local compliance and, “try to ignore the chaotic, political, and shock-motivated headlines which have unfortunately become the norm.”
Greg James, the publisher of cannabis business magazines Marijuana Venture and Indoor Grower remains optimistic and says he doesn’t believe federal authorities will try to rein in marijuana. He’s going ahead with a planned launch of a third magazine later this spring. It’s called Marijuana Retailer and is a trade publication aimed at the retail side of the business.
For Jose Belen Founder and CEO of Mission Zero a group aimed at ending veteran suicides, the announcement goes far beyond business concerns. Belen is a combat veteran and outspoken proponent of medical marijuana cannabis which helped him overcome the PTSD that had caused him to lose his job and home. He is part of a lawsuit aiming to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 drugs. “My fear is that the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of veterans like myself will now have to live in fear of federal reprisal,” he said.