Political leaders haven’t exactly rallied around Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision in January to rescind the policy blocking federal prosecutors from enforcing federal pot laws against cannabis businesses operating legally under state law. It’s been just the opposite — even when it comes to notably conservative Republicans including his own boss, President Trump.
It started with John Boehner, the former Speaker of the House who joined the board of a cannabis company. He now supports legal medical marijuana after a political career spent opposing it. Then, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a conservative Republican, said President Donald Trump had assured him that he respects the rights of states to regulate legal marijuana without federal interference. The White House later confirmed Gardner’s statement. It didn’t hurt that Gardner had used his senatorial perogatives to block nearly two dozen Trump appointees to the Justice Department who couldn’t start work without Senate confirmation.
Now, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein has decided to end her career-long opposition to legalized marijuana. For those who don’t know Feinstein, it’s probably more shocking that a Democrat from San Francisco held that position in the first place.
A tough primary challenge.
Feinstein’s about-face comes as she seeks to win reelection in a state where voters approved recreational marijuana in 2016, a move she strongly opposed. Feinstein said she has now changed her mind about legalized cannabis.
Specifically, she told McClatchy that she does not believe the federal government should interfere in states where marijuana is legal for medical and recreational purposes. She went as far as to say she would consider new federal protections for states that have legalized marijuana.
“Federal law enforcement agents should not arrest Californians who are adhering to California law,” she said.
Just two years ago, Feinstein strongly opposed Proposition 64, the 2016 ballot measure that California voters approved to legalize recreational marijuana. She said at the time that she was OK with medical use, but not recreational. She also feared the ballot measure lacked sufficient protections for children and motorists.
Feinstein also said that part of the reason for the opposition was hearing cases of criminals moving from marijuana to harder drugs while she sat on the state Women’s Board of Terms and Parole. Feinstein faces a challenge in the Democratic primary from the more liberal Kevin de Leon, president of the state Senate, who suppurts legalization. The primary vote is June 5.
Protecting state-legal business from federal prosecution.
Where could all the flipping on marijuana legalization lead? One possibility is a bill currently being crafted by Gardner, the Colorado senator, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. The bill would make it the law of the land that legalization of marijuana is entirely a state issue.
It would not change the designation of marijuana as a Schedule I illegal drug at the federal level. But it would ensure there is no federal interference in states where marijuana is legal. That would alleviate concerns among marijuana entrepreneurs about a potential federal crackdown, an ongoing concern given Sessions’ frequent, public and vehement opposition to legal marijuana.
It could also lead to banks offering services to cannabis businesses. As it stands, most banks will not work with marijuana companies for fear of running afoul of federal law. This has left many marijuana businesses operating on a cash-only basis.
Gardner told CNBC that after speaking with Trump, he believes the president would support such a bill. While getting it through Congress will prove difficult, Gardner said he believes Trump will “hold to his end of the bargain.”