The Cannabis Industry’s Future Under New Atty General

What is the future of the cannabis industry under the new administration? President Trump’s recently appointed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has a record of being openly hostile to the cannabis industry. Oddly, his attitude is in direct contrast to that of his new boss, Donald Trump, whose past statements have been supportive of individual states’ choosing their own cannabis-related laws.

While both Trump and Obama are considered “hands off” in their attitudes toward medical and recreational cannabis, Sessions has made it clear that he thinks all forms of the plant are a social evil that should be snuffed out by federal law.

Amid this political turmoil and atmosphere of indecision, it is possible to gather a few clues about the possible future of the cannabis industry from news reports, recent legislation, and a handful of the President’s comments on the subject (though the signals are quite mixed).

Scenario One: Good News

Because President Trump campaigned, and so far has governed, as a populist, many in the cannabis industry believe his open-minded attitude toward sovereignty of states’ rights will be the overarching legal framework for the next four years.

There are already Republican and Democrat backed proposals to let states decide how to handle the issue. One example is a piece of legislation entitled “Respect State Marijuana Laws,” that exempts individuals who are operating within the confines of their states’ own laws. Passage of that bill would mean clear sailing for growers and consumers in cannabis-friendly states.

Scenario Two: Bad News

Not so jokingly, many cannabis industry representatives have said there are three reasons to expect a stricter enforcement of federal drug legislation that pertains to their industry: Spicer, Sessions, and Price.

Sean Spicer is the administration’s press secretary, and he has made several recent comments that indicated federal laws will be adhered to in all 50 states. Spicer’s words are interpreted to mean that Trump intends to get tough on the industry, growers and consumers in states that have passed laws easing restrictions on cannabis use and sale.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is an old-school, law-and-order politician with a long history of opposing the cannabis industry and any form of marijuana usage, cultivation or sale. Because the Attorney General has near total control of federal-level cannabis enforcement, some industry officials have said his appointment is the worst news of all from the Trump administration.

New Health Dept. Secretary Tom Price also has a history of opposing every conceivable form of legalized marijuana and cannabis derivatives. As long as the FDA continues to classify cannabis as a controlled substance in the Schedule 1 category, prosecution of growers, users and sellers will continue to loom over the industry.

Scenario Three: Not So Good, but Not So Bad Either

Many in the cannabis industry who have studied President Trump’s past statements have concluded that he is probably personally inclined to open the door even wider to medical forms of marijuana as well as to scientific research on possible clinical benefits of the substance. Because so many Americans fully support medical marijuana and states’ rights on related issues, it’s a good bet that the president will at least take a shot at moving the official classification from Schedule 1 to a more lenient category.

The “Economic” Argument that Could Persuade the President

A recent report in Forbes, long considered a politically conservative business publication, made the case for cannabis legalization that is quite possibly what the president is hearing from those on his staff who are pro-cannabis legalization.

The report makes a strong case that could attract the new president’s attention in several areas. Notably, the potential tax revenue from a legally liberated cannabis industry could be huge, to use one of Trump’s favorite adjectives. The few states that already allow medical marijuana, for example, have taken in several hundred million dollars of tax revenue that simply did not exist prior to legalization.

Jobs and crime: In Washington State alone, cannabis has surged to the top three of all cash crops and employed thousands of workers. Across the nation, it is estimated that even in these early days of industry growth, at least 100,000 new jobs have been directly created as a result of cannabis legalization or partial legalization.

One of the most compelling points, from a legal standpoint, is the fact that cannabis legalization almost always cuts down on drug-related, and cartel-related, crime for various reasons. When gangs, dealers of hard drugs and other criminal types can’t make a profit on legalized cannabis, they exit the business. That leaves law enforcement personnel free to focus on serious crimes, unclogs state courts, and leads to less prison crowding.

Health: Finally, in the locales where cannabis has been legalized, there are fewer deaths from “dirty batches” that often originate from underground dealers who thrive in states where cannabis is a highly illegal substance only available on the black market. Legal states make sure that the product is inspected for purity, properly labeled and safely packaged. During Prohibition, when recreational alcohol was the subject of a nationwide ban, many people died from homemade and improperly processed whiskey, gin and beer. Legalization put an end to those problems almost overnight.

The Near Future

The Trump administration has already caused a ripple of activity in the cannabis industry, as investors, growers and sellers of legal cannabis products are watching and waiting to see what the final Trump policies will be.

President Trump has a pretty clear record of supporting states’ rights on issues like medical marijuana and a number of other important topics. However, the president’s appointment of at least two people who seem hostile to all forms of legalized cannabis is at odds with his own stated policies. Tom Price (the new secretary of the Department of Health) and Jeff Sessions hold important positions in the new administration and are on record as being against any kind of national legalization of recreational or medical cannabis products.

The bottom line for those who want to predict the future of the cannabis industry is an optimistic one: national support for medical cannabis use is widespread, and at least ten states have begun to reform or remove laws that make recreational use of cannabis a crime.

It seems, for the time being anyway, that cannabis industry professionals are expecting broad public support and Trump’s known openness on the issue to win the day. As is the case with many other policy areas in this new administration, however, it will likely take a few months before a clear direction takes hold.

For more information: Details about each state’s marijuana laws are located at the National Conference of State Legislatures website, which features an up-to-date listing. A less objective, but well-written synopsis of state laws is also available at the website of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. NORML’s database also includes a vast resource library on the topic, news releases, a very active blog, and a detailed list of ways that explain how citizens can work to reform what many perceive to be a very outdated legal framework for all things cannabis-related.

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