Is Jeff Sessions Helping or Hurting The Marijuana Industry

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently clarified how the Trump administration intends to treat states that have legalized pot, which remains illegal on the federal level. The Obama administration eventually took a relatively hands-off approach to this enforcement conundrum. But Sessions instructed all United States attorneys to treat cannabis-related activities like any suspected crime, instead of making them a low priority if they comply with state laws. This bureaucratic salvo is stirring fears that the Trump administration could be on the verge of a crackdown that could potentially jeopardize the nation’s growing number of legally operating pot businesses. However, based on my research and what I’ve learned while teaching the first US college course on the marijuana business at the University, I see no reason for supporters of legalization to panic. In fact, Florida marijuana doctors and others believe that Sessions may have actually accelerated the process toward federal marijuana legalization. Since the federal government considers pot to be a Class 1 controlled substance and makes using and selling marijuana for any reason a crime, this put the authorities in an awkward position. Key members of the Clinton administration responded with harsh rhetoric. The drug lords, said at the time, “We should ask ourselves whether we really want Cheech and Chong logic to guide our thinking about medicine.” Raids and high-profile indictments followed. President George W. Bush’s administration also expressed hostility toward medical marijuana, making its growing number of raids on legal dispensaries come as no great surprise. In 2005, as his second term began, the Supreme Court ruled that federal powers trumped states’ rights in this regard. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama suggested that he might not interfere with the power of what was by then about a dozen states to allow medicinal marijuana sales and use. In 2009, his deputy attorney general, released a memo that furthered this impression. It said that small-scale operators in states where medical marijuana was legal were a low enforcement priority. But Obama’s administration executed dozens of dispensary raids anyway, disappointing legalization proponents. During Obama’s second term, the number of states that had legalized medical marijuana climbed past the 20 mark. A handful also legalized recreational weed. Meanwhile, support for legal pot continued to build in general. Four years after the memo, another deputy attorney general, issued a more comprehensive memo. It directed all US attorneys to treat marijuana businesses operating “in clear and unambiguous compliance” with state marijuana laws as a low enforcement priority. While still somewhat ambiguous and falling short of support for full federal legalization, guidance made cannabis businesses in states such as Florida medical marijuana that had legalized the product feel less vulnerable. Rather than fight for more protection against federal raids, marijuana entrepreneurs and social activists at that point instead generally chose to focus on compliance within state laws and continuing to increase public support. The strategy seemed to pay off with marijuana doctors in Sarasota and additional states legalizing pot for medical and recreational purposes. While full legalization remained an appealing long-term goal for many Americans, the status quo during Obama’s second term seemed quite workable for states with legal markets. And it took away the impetus to push for more rapid federal change. This article is brought to you by All Natural Medical Solutions marijuana doctor in Florida.

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