It seems that President Trump has finally let his U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, out of his cage. The “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” guiding force of the Justice Department has been mostly silent with his opinions on marijuana ever since Trump stood on the White House lawn months ago and said he would “probably” support a measure intended to give states the freedom to legalize marijuana however they see fit. But just last week, Sessions finally crawled out of wherever he’s been hiding and conniving to reiterate Justice Department’s anti-pot position, saying, “states have a right to set their own laws and will do so, and we will follow the federal law.”
It was at a recent press conference in Boston regarding the immigration issue when reporters asked Sessions whether states would continue to have the freedom to legalize marijuana. Remember, Sessions took it upon himself earlier this year to rescind the non-binding Obama-era Cole Memo, which has given states the breathing room to experiment with marijuana legalization without much federal interference.
But rather than come clean with the media and tell them something like, “look, the Justice Department hasn’t taken any action against legal marijuana in over a year and a half, and even if we wanted to we simply don’t have the resources to shut it down,” he continued to rile the scene with his usual prohibition psychobabble, “we will follow the federal law.”
The attorney general went on to elaborate on his response: “The American republic will not be better if there are marijuana sales on every street corner.” However, no mention was made of Trump and his recent comments about support siding with Senator Cory Gardner’s Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act).
Despite the fact that the U.S. government still considers marijuana a Schedule I dangerous drug, the cannabis industry is one of the fastest-growing business sectors in the United States. Some of the latest data shows that national cannabis sales are on track to hit $75 billion by 2030 — surpassing the soda industry. More importantly, legal weed is creating mass amounts of new jobs — something that President Trump swore during his campaign that the country would see more of once he took office. A recent report from Zip Recruiter shows that job growth in the cannabis sector was up 445 percent in 2017. The advent of legal marijuana sales in the handful of states that have chosen to embrace it has had such an enormous impact that some experts say a “crackdown” on legal weed could spawn a recession. This is because the cannabis industry doesn’t just create work for cannabis enthusiasts — it also indirectly provides jobs for contractors (electricians, plumbers, construction workers), realtors, and contributes vastly to the tourism trade.
It is for this reason that former Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole, the man responsible for drafting the infamous Cole Memo in the first place, doesn’t believe the cannabis industry has much to worry about with respect to a crackdown. Although Cole says the Department of Justice could unleash this wrath, it is “unlikely.”
During a recent speech at the National Cannabis Industry Association’s Cannabis Business Summit, Cole said he has not “seen a spate of prosecution (since) the Cole Memo” was put in the trash. He went on to explain that because the country has “93 U.S. attorneys who are all given their own individual discretion,” and are “by and large political animals,” they probably wouldn’t take an “aggressive approach” to legal weed and risk “defying the will of the voters.”
The scenario Cole believes is most likely is a U.S. Attorney in a prohibition state creating a dust-up against pot businesses operating in a legal jurisdiction. “You’ve had U.S. attorneys offices that have spread their jurisdictional arm very, very far to bring cases in their district against entities that weren’t in their district. They touch the district in one way or another. So, it’s possible to do,” he said, adding that he isn’t aware of any such plan.
Yet, cannabis businesses that are operating in compliance with state law are still at risk of legal trouble as long as the federal government considers marijuana an illegal drug.
“They could make the point that we don’t care about state law. We only care about the Controlled Substances Act, under federal law. You violated, you’re in trouble,” Cole said.
But it is more likely that Sessions and his cronies would target cannabis businesses that have “broken the law by selling to minors, failing to pay taxes, or shipping their product across state lines,” he added. Going after investors could also be a tactical move. The U.S. Border Patrol is already doing this at some level.
Unless a cannabis company is operating outside of the law, they probably do not have to worry about a crackdown. But they need to be “diligent” and “willing to go above and beyond what state law requires, says former federal prosecutor Andrew Kline.
Temporary amendments, like the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer rider, which prevents the Justice Department from prosecuting medical marijuana operations, can only shield the industry so much. The marijuana issue is now at the point where Congressional action is required to keep it from becoming unhinged. Especially now that Canada has gone fully legal. Cole says something cannabis-related cooking on the Hill, but he’s not certain what it is. He told those in attendance of the recent cannabis summit that, “there’s a bipartisan majority in both houses for something” but “what that something is, I don’t know.”
TELL US, do you think a cannabis crackdown is coming?