Even though the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, has rescinded the Cole memo, which allowed legal cannabis markets across the nation to proliferate despite federal law, states with legal recreational markets are adamant they are continuing as per usual.
The opinion is that business should be conducted as per usual. After all, they have done a lot of work to get these markets up and running and lawmakers wish to respect the rights of the voters in their states. The states that should care the most are the ones with recreational markets because a lot of money is being made, both in direct sales and in tax revenue. So what are they saying, post-Jeff Sessions’ decision?
Industry insiders say that recreational business owners shouldn’t be too nervous about the news. In Alaska, legal cannabis continues to grow in popularity and the state is reliant on the tax dollars generated by this market. Additionally, industry insiders say that this move by the Attorney General is a slap in the face to the voters who have overwhelmingly and resoundingly have supported the industry as a whole at the ballot box. But the issue is whether or not federal prosecutors will decide to tackle the cannabis industry if they should choose. Insiders say they have bigger fish to fry and not to mention that the state’s governor has traditionally been an ally to adult-use cannabis.
Public officials in this state say the cannabis industry will continue uninterrupted. Companies say they will keep on operating as normal and regulators don’t intend on changing course. According to the chief of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, she fully expects the DOJ and the Trump administration to respect the rights of states when it comes to voter supported legalization regimes. But even if the respect for voters is not there, there’s no indication there will be any change to Californian cannabis policies. Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson was pretty vocal in his opinion about the federal government’s change in policy saying, “We will not be bullied by an out-of-town and out-of-touch politician. The Voters of California and Los Angeles have spoken, and we will continue doing our job of reasonably regulating the cannabis industry.”
This state has the longest running recreational market in the nation and responded in kind by coming out in force against Sessions’ decision. Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper said in a statement that the “decision does not alter the strength of our resolve…nor does it change my constitutional responsibilities.” Politicians are coming together to oppose this change including Republican Senator Cory Gardner who said he’s prepared, “to take all steps necessary,” including holding up the confirmation of Justice Department nominees, “until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.” Generally, the backlash of Sessions decision is bipartisan.
Unfortunately, the resistance seen in other states is not likely to happen in Maine. Mainers voted to approve recreational cannabis in 2016, but Governor Paul Lepage has stood in the way of creating a working program and experts say that Sessions’ decision will likely only solidify his opposition. The Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project said in a statement, “It’s going to hamper the rollout of the market,”. He does, however, hope that federal prosecutors follow the will of the voters and doesn’t begin a crackdown on the adult-use market. However, there is still a lot of work to be done before the Maine adult-use market is up and running, so it might be a moot point.
Governor Charlie Baker has said that his state plans to push forward with implementation of adult-use cannabis sales. He even went as far as to say that Sessions’ move was “the wrong decision.” Massachusetts voters approved recreational cannabis in 2016, and progress is being made toward a July 1 launch of sales. And in December, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission approved a set of draft regulations. This commission has said that absolutely nothing has changed given Sessions decision to rescind the Cole memo. They will continue to move forward with their process to establish and implement sensible regulations for this emerging industry in Massachusetts.
Nevada’s market is relatively new and is outpacing expectations by a significant margin, setting records in sales, with more than 38 million dollars done in October alone. Lawmakers don’t seem eager to slow down this process. Representative Dina Titus of Nevada’s First Congressional District said in a statement that Sessions actions were a “direct attack on the state of Nevada, sovereign tribal governments and the rights of people in states, tribes, and territories all across the United States.” She went on to say rescinding the Cole Memo “undermines Nevada’s 622 million dollar industry, threatens nearly 1 billion in new investments and jeopardizes thousands of new jobs and more than 60 million in tax revenue for the state. It doesn’t appear that Nevada will allow Sessions’ decision to affect them now that they depend on the revenue.
Industry insiders in this state say it’s hard to predict how the US Attorney will respond to Sessions’ policy change. However, currently, they have adhered to the Cole Memo and has yet to go after a state-compliant cannabis business. But state Governor Kate Brown did issue this statement, “reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will roll back federal marijuana policy are deeply concerning and disruptive to our state’s economy. Over 19,000 jobs have been created by the market Oregon worked carefully to build in good faith and in accordance with the Cole Memorandum. The federal government must keep its promise to states that relied on its guidance.” Businesses that are already operating might continue to do so, but newcomers might be more reticent to enter this industry.
Industry insiders say that like Colorado, this market has been around for too long for it to go anywhere. The state’s Governor and Attorney General, as well as Seattle’s mayor all, spoke out against Sessions’ actions. Governor Jay Inslee called the revocation of the Cole Memo “the wrong direction for our state.” He wrote in a statement, “In Washington state, we have put in place a system that adheres to what we pledged to the people of Washington and the federal government. It’s well regulated, keeps criminal elements out, keeps pot out of the hands of kids and tracks it all carefully enough to clamp down on cross-border leakage. We are going to keep doing that and overseeing the well-regulated market that Washington voters approved.”
So the ramifications of this decision are widespread and varied. Some states without an up and running market will be more affected than those with an already established adult-use market. Most of the states with recreational laws are going to continue doing what they do, but Jeff Sessions’ decision will prevent more states from entering the fold. This is a situation that we are going to continually have to watch because only time will tell what will happen here, and there is a lot at stake. Billions of dollars in fact.