States Keep Passing Laws On Marijuana As Anti-Marijuana Leaders Take Over

Feb 08, 2017   
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February 8, 2017
By Debora Borchardt

The states may be pushing forward with more legalization of marijuana, but Washington, D.C., might be stepping back. The marijuana business community has a mixed outlook regarding how the new administration will address their emerging multimillion-dollar industry. Some say “the genie is out of the bottle and they won’t roll it back,” while others are nervously parsing each political utterance about cannabis.

In Tom Angell’s Marijuana Moment newsletter, he pointed out that during yesterday’s nomination hearing for Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, Elizabeth Warren noted his penchant for “aggressively prosecuting marijuana offenses” before she was silenced. Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz said that he believed Sessions’ views on marijuana were out of the mainstream and suggested that Sessions tell cancer victims that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” a reference to one of Sessions well-known quotes. Washington Senator Maria Cantwell said Sessions “refused to respect the rights of states” to enact their own marijuana laws.

Separately, President Trump met with law enforcement officials and the topic of asset seizures came up. This is a very sensitive subject for many marijuana businesses. Several dispensaries tell stories of being raided and losing inventory as well as cash that they store in their vaults because they can’t get bank accounts. They are either not charged with a crime or have the charges dropped, but then never get their money or their inventory returned. A Texas sheriff complained that a state senator wanted to ban the practice and Trump threatened, perhaps jokingly, that he wanted to destroy that lawmaker’s career. That’s definitely not what cannabis owners want to hear.

Not only is Sessions going to work against the marijuana industry, but also the next Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is decidedly anti-marijuana. He will oversee the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. Price has consistently voted against marijuana legislation. It’s hard to imagine these two won’t convince Trump to see things their way. The president already believes that all drugs are the reason behind a lot of crime today.

“There’s been nothing created at the federal level to let any of this [legalization] happen,” said Andrew Ittleman a partner at Fuerst Ittleman who works with marijuana issues. “If they want to change the course of the industry, it is well within their power to do so.” He added that he doesn’t see the scheduling of marijuana moving in a positive direction under Trump.

Meanwhile, states continue to approve and advance various laws surrounding medical marijuana and decriminalization. Georgia wants to expand qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, Wisconsin is voting to expand cannabidiol access this week, Utah approved a medical cannabis research bill and New Hampshire voted to move forward with decriminalization. There are however, signs of push back as well. Maine is looking at delaying retail sales marijuana in the state and Arkansas is trying to amend a voter-approved medical marijuana law.

For now, the industry is moving forward with the assumption that it will be business as usual and that marijuana is a low priority item on Trump’s agenda. However, nothing in this new administration is business as usual.

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