Donald Trump's nomination of Jeff Sessions for attorney general puts the future of state marijuana laws in question. USA TODAY
Jars of dried marijuana flowers or "buds" ready for sale at a Denver-area marijuana store.(Photo: Trevor Hughes/USA TODAY)
DENVER Legal pot's future is in a haze, thanks to President-elect Trump's nomination of a staunchly anti-marijuana lawmaker for attorney general.
Goodpeople don't smoke marijuana," said Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions in an April Senate hearing.
That view from the nation's incoming top cop, a sharply different tone than President Obama's, has cast a pall over an industry that's recently celebrated a watershed moment. Voters in eight states relaxed their marijuana laws on Nov. 8, raising to 29 the states that now permit medical use of marijuana, and eight withlegal recreational laws on the books.
Marijuana opponents are energized by Sessions' nomination,saying the federal government could easily reverse the national trend toward legalization.
The point is that it's a new day for marijuana policy, said Kevin Sabet, president of the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana group. All options are on the table something unthinkable three weeks ago.
Legal pot's shaky legal ground adds to the uncertainty. While more states loosen restrictions, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, preventing its saleacross state lines and limiting businesses from openingbank accounts.
Marijuana-industry workers say a change in attitude at the top of government would quickly trickle down. A few high-profile raids by the DEA would likely dissuade many of those who are today publicly selling cannabis.
Many marijuana business owners are wary of drawing Trump's ire, and are "proceeding with caution," saidNate Bradley, the executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association.Yet advocates for legal marijuana also are hopeful that the views of Trump, who has supported states' rights to establish their own marijuana policies,will outweigh those of Sessions.
President-elect Trump has picked Sen. Jeff Sessions to be U.S. Attorney General. Here's what you need to know about the Alabama senator. USA TODAY NETWORK
We would expect appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president to stick to the presidents position on this subject. It would certainly be controversial if Sen. Sessions completely defied the president who appointed him, said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project.
For states with legal pot, there are jobs and tax revenue at stake.
In all the recreational states Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada buyers must pay taxes on their marijuana purchases. California alone is expected to have a marijuana marketplace worth $7.6 billion by 2020, according toindustry analysts New Frontier Data and ArcView Market Research.
A customer at a Denver-area marijuana store holds a card with advice for users.(Photo: Trevor Hughes/USA TODAY)
Today, marijuana dealers feel largely protected by the Cole Memo, a Justice Department letter establishing under what circumstances federal law enforcement would step in. Generally speaking, the Cole Memo says the federal government will ignore marijuana businesses working in states with strong regulatory systems that take steps to keep pot out of the hands of kidsand prevent drug cartels from profiting. But that 2013 memo also specifically says prosecutors retain the discretion to target the marijuana industry if theres a strong federal interest.
Congress has also prohibited the Justice Department from using federal money to interfere with medical marijuana patients in states where its been approved.
President Obama told Rolling Stone that he believes marijuana should be treated as a public health issue, similar to alcohol or tobacco, and called the growing patchwork of state laws "untenable" from a federal perspective, because there's such a disparity across state borders. Some marijuana advocates remain bitterly disappointed Obama didn't do more to push the DEA to classify cannabis as something other than a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
Industry analysts say its unlikely Trump will make dramatic changes to marijuana enforcement, given the repeated choices made by voters and the economic impact the industry has. But they're also unsure, given the president-elect's propensity for changing his mind or significantly rolling back campaign promises.
You had Donald Trump running on a slogan of Make America Great Again, bringing back jobs and economic opportunities, and as one of its first acts (the Trump administration) tries to dismantle one of the fastest growing economic opportunities in the country? asked John Kagia, New Frontiers executive vice president for industry analytics. I think theyre going to be walking gingerly here. The likelihood of federal agents effectively shutting down the adult use industry in our humble opinion, is unlikely.
Gather round, little children, I want to tell you a tale. You want to know what has happened in the last 10 years in the legal industry? By far the biggest story over that time is the layoffs that nearly shattered the industry, and irrevocably changed it.
An employee of Lehman Brothers carries a box out of the companys headquarters building September 15, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
The 2009 layoffs that rocked the legal industry were brutal. There is little other way to describe it. Of course, there were other industries and jobs that were lost during the Great Recession. But when the shit first started to hit the fan, and the newly jobless masses from Lehman Brothers streamed wide-eyed into the streets in Midtown, many in Biglaw took solace in the relatively staid and conservative nature of the legal industry, hoping that its business model would provide stability.
That turned out to be a false hope. I know I lived through it. By the time the bloodshed was over, about 6,000 lawyers would be looking for work. Some were lied to and told they were losing their job for performance issues issues that magically appeared once the financial institutions that had happily paid for billable hours during boom times hit their own hard times. Others were told a more straightforward story, but the result was the same. There we were in unprecedented numbers waiting on the breadline.
Its bizarre to see so many high-achieving people desperate for the few jobs that were actually available. Midsized firms in major markets saw a deluge of rsums for any lateral position they posted. And whenlucky enough to get an interview, you spent half of the time trying to convince the powers-that-bethat you really were committed to this sudden change in your career path, and no, you would not bolt for Biglaw the second a job there came up.
That part at least was true there would be little bolting for Biglaw, since most of those jobs werent coming back. Firms learned they could live by staffing matters more leanly, and some of the more junior tasks like the hours of discovery work that used to pad a litigation departments bottom line were being outsourced (often at the clients demand) to third-party vendors.
So, we waited. Though that simple sounding task proved challenging, as Above the Laws Roxana St. Thomas documented in real time:
How quickly things change. This morning I had to stop for a moment to ask myself what month it is. January? No. February? I think so. In fact, Im pretty sure that it is February-something, although its hard to say when tumbleweeds blow through the Outlook calendar that remains on your BlackBerry, prepared to accept the appointments you do not have and the meetings you will not schedule. Is it Thursday? Friday? Tuesday? Thats even tougher. Those are all days on which one might have a conference call, or a motion due, or a litigation department dinner to sit through while rolling your eyes and emailing a friend across the room (like sixth graders disguised in business attire and outfitted with less crinkly note-writing tools).
But none of those things happened yesterday, or will happen today, and I am wearing the same thing I slept in and, for that matter, wore to the gym. And I havent washed my hair since whatever day was three days ago, which I couldnt tell you the name of.
The days slipped into weeks and then into months.
Even with an entire industry seemingly on the verge of disaster, there were intense feelings of failure and self-recrimination as if there were something you should have done differently that would save you from this fate. Maybe if youd stayed a little later, not taken any vacation days, or volunteered to add one more assignment to your 12-hour days, you could have done something that could have proven your loyalty and worth to the Biglaw firm that just cast you aside. But the reality is, even when couched in the bullshit of performance-related termination (that remarkably only became an issue as the economy was collapsing), there wasnt.
The legal industry was bloated, and the financial transactions that had become the bedrock of many firms were based on a lie. Something had to give, and now youre screwed.
And when the long days of rsum revisions and cover letters turned up no new opportunities, cheap alcohol could always keep the specter of doom at bay. Of course, that strategy doesnt really work, but who said lawyers have good coping skills?
But survive it you must. Leaving New York, plaintiff firms, small firms, and document review are all on the table as you struggle to end the unemployed life. This shark-like, ever-forward mantra, plus the prayer that once again youll work as a lawyer, is all thats keeping you together. Then halfway through cooking ramen for the fifth dinner in a row in some poorly remembered pantomime of frugality the overwhelming futility of your life hits. Youll remember the dinners with friends you canceled on, the occasions you missed, and the family you disappointed all because you had a high-powered job, and now you have nothing but unemployment checks to show for it. The elitist in you screams this wasnt supposed to happen to me! Not the kid who always got good grades, busted ass in college, and graduated from a T14 law school. But here you are, and you arent alone.
Fast forward seven years, and you have indeed survived. Now the Biglaw dreams you once pinned everything on seem like an unrealistic childish fantasy, like a nine-year-old declaring they are going to marry Tom Cruise (with the obvious exception of Katie Holmes, and even that didnt turn out the way shed planned). Those that stayed or managed to return to Biglaw see that it has changed. It once seemed a safe career choice, where hard work could guarantee you a decent life. But no more. We now know it is as volatile as any market even as it struggles to stay above the fray. The collapse sucked, but it was a defining experience for those that lived it, especially for those still kicking around in Biglaw.
When I ask senior associates their number one complaint about junior associates, it isnt (just) that they are millennials its that they all say, I dont remember 2009. That experience left an indelible mark. When my grandmother died, we found boxes of cookies and candy hidden around her house; shed lived through the Depression, and some small part of her was always worried there would come a time when she wouldnt have anymore sweet treats. Similarly, these attorneys work in constant fear that one day the assignments will all dry up. Anyone who survived 09 knows: the only thing worse than too much work is not enough.
Kathryn Rubino is an editor at Above the Law. Feel free to email herwith any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).
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