The Trump administration's stance on legalized pot was recently clarified by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his memo where he told US Attorneys not to make pot related crimes a low priority, even if the “crimes” complied with state laws.
The Sessions’ memo initially sent a ripple of fear through the legal pot industry, as business owners worried about the Trump administration cracking down. However, according to Paul Seaborn, a University of Denver professor that teaches a course on marijuana business, there is no reason to panic because he believes that Sessions’ attitude may actually accelerate the federal legalization process.
The first state to legalize medical usage was California in 1996 with Alaska and Oregon close behind. However, since marijuana is considered a Class 1 drug, making, using, or selling for any reason is still a federal crime. So state legalization created a bit of an awkward spot for authorities. The Clinton and W administrations were tough on the industry. They raided legal dispensaries which led to some high-profile indictments.
The Obama administration was a little more lax, and although raids were conducted, they eventually decided to treat the cases as low priority. During his second term, over 20 states had legalized medical marijuana and the country started to see recreational usage being passed as well. Obama and his administration decided to pretty much leave them alone as long as the businesses were operating within the laws of its state.
Enter Trump. When he chose Jeff Sessions for attorney general, the marijuana business owners were worried it meant the federal government was going to crackdown on them due to Sessions anti-pot stance.
Sessions, however, didn’t make a peep about it for nearly a year, and by that time business was booming. The pot industry is generating tax dollars and creating jobs. 61% of Americans support legalization, and the majority of Republicans are for it as well. Even Sessions’ memo to stop putting marijuana crimes in the low priority bin is fairly mild compared to the raids that were feared.
But even that mild anti-pot stance was enough to ruffle some feathers. Lawmakers, attorneys general, business owners, and stakeholders reacted negatively to the memo. It appears that Sessions didn’t consider the support the legalization movement has garnered.
Professor Seaborn sums it up, “All in all, the fierce reaction across the political spectrum reaction shows two things: Sessions’ memo is an empty threat and pot’s days as an illegal drug are numbered.”