The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States caught many pundits and prognosticators off guard. President Trump’s victory also instilled a level of uncertainty in America’s burgeoning state-legal cannabis industry. During the presidential campaign, Trump routinely professed his adherence to states’ rights when it comes to cannabis legalization (at least for medical cannabis activities). Once elected, however, President Trump appointed known cannabis prohibitionist Jeff Sessions to be his choice as U.S. Attorney General for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and cannabis operators went from feeling uncertain to outright fear.
It now appears that those fears may have been unfounded. After his confirmation, Sessions didn’t immediately seek to enforce federal laws against marijuana operators (to the pleasant surprise of many in the cannabis industry). The honeymoon lasted until January 4, 2018. Just four days into adult-use cannabis sales being legal in the state of California, Sessions formally rescinded the Cole Memo and the cannabis industry was once again thrown into turmoil. The rescission of the Cole Memo, when added with the Environmental Protection Agency’s refusal to register pesticides on cannabis crops and the Federal Drug Administration’s (FDA) threatened crackdown on medical cannabis claims, painted an ominous picture for the cannabis industry throughout the United States (although some of us were more optimistic).
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It’s been over four months since Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo and although he’s rattled his saber on some occasions, the dreaded crackdown has not occurred. For that, we may have Russia to thank. Sessions’ self-recusal from the DOJ’s investigation into Russian government meddling in the presidential election has made him persona non grata in the Trump administration — thereby placing his priorities at the very bottom of President’s Trump list.
Rather than a return to federal enforcement actions, we’ve begun to see quite a few positive developments as of late. Last week, President Trump told U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) that he was committed to supporting a legislative solution to the tension between state’s that regulate cannabis activities and federal law (which we covered here). This could be a very important development, and let’s hope that this is one issue in which the President doesn’t change his mind.
Besides the commitment that the President made to Senator Gardner, there have been a number of other developments that have given cannabis businesses a reason to be optimistic:
- The FDA just released a report that a CBD based drug has shown to have a positive effect on those that suffer from seizures and epilepsy. This is a big blow to the federal government’s position that the cannabis plant has no medical value.
- U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently introduced a bill in the Senate that would authorize hemp as an agricultural product. Any progress in the federal legalization of hemp will eventually also benefit marijuana legalization.
- Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) sent a letter to the DOJ and the Drug Enforcement Agency, calling on them to increase the pace of medical research in cannabis. There have been approximately twenty-five applications submitted to the DEA to produce federally approved research-grade marijuana but none of them have been approved.
- U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) recently issued a statement that he plans on introducing a stand-alone bill that will respect a state’s right to regulate cannabis and would make the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment permanent.
Taken as a whole, these are all encouraging developments– especially considering their bipartisan support. However, this is not the time to rest on our precarious laurels. The November mid-term elections will be on us before we know it and it will be up to all of us to elect officials that are against the government’s draconian war on cannabis. We can’t leave this up to Russia to decide for us, after all.
Habib Bentleb is an attorney at Harris Bricken, a law firm with lawyers in Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Barcelona, and Beijing. This story was originally published on the Canna Law Blog.