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.
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