President-Elect, Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, as Attorney General, is a major red flag for everyone involved in the U.S. marijuana industry, patients reliant on medical marijuana, and recreational users.
Sessions appointment is a threat to the very existence of state-licensed marijuana businesses. His pending appointment has the potential of depriving hundreds of thousands of Americans with access to marijuana for their medical needs. This is only the tip of the iceberg. State and local governments that have been collecting taxes stand to be tremendous losers. A change in federal marijuana policy would also affect new job creation and the livelihood of those who are working in this nascent but fast-growing industry.
Just the thought of Sessions becoming attorney general has rattled many marijuana investors. Entrepreneurs have also placed their plans to enter this market on hold and will likely not commit to this emerging industry until more is known regarding the intent of the new Trump administration.
It is well documented that Sessions is no friend of the marijuana industry. An advocate of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, Sessions was quoted earlier this year as saying, “I can't tell you how concerning it is for me, emotionally and personally, to see the possibility that we will reverse the progress that we've made....”
Sessions also stated at a legislative hearing in April, “It was the prevention movement that really was so positive, and it led to this decline. The creating of knowledge that this drug is dangerous, it cannot be played with, it is not funny, it's not something to laugh about, and trying to send that message with clarity, that good people don't smoke marijuana.”
He concluded his remarks with, “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.”
Currently, Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law. Despite rumors to the contrary, it does not appear likely that President Obama has any desire to alter this by executive order before leaving the White House.
I’m concerned that Sessions could repeal the Department of Justice’s policy directive that has prevented federal enforcement in states with legalized marijuana programs. I’m also worried that as attorney general, Sessions might take legal action against states including California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, with the argument that federal law preempts state-legalized programs.
Trump is a wild card. No one knows what his management style will be. He has stated that he likes to “keep people guessing.” It is entirely possible that he will delegate major and minor decisions to his cabinet secretaries. If this is his management style, it will allow Sessions, as attorney general, to have carte blanche. This could be a disaster for state-licensed marijuana businesses, patients relying on medical marijuana, and recreational users in states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
Mr. Trump has stated emphatically that in his first one hundred days he will give priority to reforming or repealing the Affordable Care Act or ObamaCare; focus on an infrastructure investment plan, withdraw from international trade treaties, change immigration policies, and perhaps reset U.S. foreign policy. Although he has backpedaled from some of his campaign policies such as building a wall along America’s southern border with Mexico, any reference to changes in federal marijuana policy has been conspicuously absent. It is this total absence of comment that makes me nervous.
It is clear that President-Elect Trump will have to prioritize his agenda. How he approaches that prioritization and what he ultimately chooses to take action on affects all Americans and will likely have a significant impact on the state-licensed marijuana industry.
I would like to remain optimistic. One could conclude that because an estimated 60 percent of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana, Trump would not seek to stir up a hornet’s nest by mandating changes to state programs that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana. However, If Jeff Sessions is confirmed as attorney general, all bets are off.