While Attorney General Jeff Sessions hasn’t specifically directed federal prosecutors to go after legal marijuana businesses, the mere fact that he has given them that option has already started impacting the canna-biz. And not in a good way.
As we’ve noted time and time again, the current legislative limbo between federal and state marijuana law is doing more than anything to keep the legal marijuana industry from reaching its full potential in this country.
Marijuana in all forms is still illegal at the federal level, and while dozens of states and Washington, D.C., have legalized cannabis in some form, all of them are operating with the fear that the feds — empowered by Sessions’ recent rescinding of the pot industry-protecting, Obama-era Cole Memo — could come after them at any moment.
In Colorado, for example, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) says he wouldn’t be surprised to see Jeff Sessions “sow doubt” about legal marijuana by pushing for the federal closure of some marijuana facilities in states where it’s legal.
“He does not think in any way that it’s a good thing for this country to have legal marijuana, so when he rattles his saber, I wouldn’t be surprised if he closes down one or two of these facilities just to make that statement,” Hickenlooper told The Hill’s Power Politics podcast.
Hickenlooper, who is in his final year in office, cites numerous back market vendors coming out of the shadows, as well as a lack of escalation in cannabis use among teens and people driving high, as reasons why legalization has been a good thing. He also praised the economic benefits of the industry.
“Now, look at all these people who are involved in the marijuana business and are paying taxes,” he said. “They’re not breaking the law.”
Despite his support of the industry, when officials in other states often consult Hickenlooper regarding the pros and cons of legalization, he tells them to “wait another year or two.” Hickenlooper says that while public demand for cannabis is reaching “critical mass,” there will continue “no predictability” within the industry unless Congress and President Trump take action — action that would counteract Sessions’ perceived plans.
Among the items that need to be resolved, Hickenlooper says, is the ability of to banks to serve marijuana businesses without fear of facing criminal charges and civil liability for “aiding and abetting” a federal crime and money laundering.
As Vice reports, the Twin City Bank inn Longview, Washington, which has been serving cannabis dispensaries and other pot-related businesses, has been getting nervous calls from people considering closing their accounts. The owner of a Seattle medical and recreational dispensary sent out an email to customers assuring them that it was still operating as usual and that it would advise of them of any changes. And last month, a bipartisan group of 16 Senators asked the Department of Justice to maintain its guidance so banks could continue serving the industry.
But while one of the senators who co-authored the letter, Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, has also proposed legislation that would make it legal for banks and credit unions to provide full banking services to marijuana businesses, nobody knows exactly what Sessions’ influence over the industry will ultimately be.
How do we put this?
Sessions needs to quit or lay off of pot.
Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates. As long as Jeff Sessions is attorney general, there will likely be many.