Photo: Getty Images
  /  01.08.2018

The answer to this is, probably not! At least not right now, assuming you are not a black market dealer or a new dispensary owner. But as a service to all of you pot people, prospective entrepreneurs, and fans of regulatory memorandum and federalism debates, we’re here to give you a breakdown on what is going on with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent move to thwart free flow of marijuana on a national scale.

To recap the legalities: Sessions’ recent memo has done nothing to change federal law, under which marijuana use remains illegal. But the Attorney General has reversed the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to federal pot prosecutions, which may have a chilling effect on the booming pot economy and the states-level march to nationwide legalization. Or, the states may just ignore Sessions and keep on marching, because momentum is real, and the pendulum is mid-swing.

Under Obama, the Department Of Justice adopted a policy (known as the Cole memo) which instructed federal prosecutors essentially to look-the-other-way when it came to marijuana laws. As a result, federal prosecutors stopped concerning themselves with recreational use, and even sale and distribution, in weed-friendly states — provided the commerce wasn’t targeted at minors, or acting as a front for other more nefarious sorts of activity. The Cole memo has paved the way for this state-by-state road to legal dope — as of this year, you can sanctimoniously smoke in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Washington, and Washington D.C. — and the momentum of this movement began to entice the sorts of big money investors needed to build out the proper economic infrastructure for a vibrant pot economy.

But just as banks and insurance agencies started warming up to the idea of doing legitimate business with pot retailers and other such marijuana-related companies, on Thursday, Sessions unleashed his memo which essentially calls for a reversal of the Cole Memo and “a return of trust and local control to federal prosecutors.” Sessions added “the memo…directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country.” You can read the whole thing here.

In other words: Sessions wants to come for weed, weed-heads, and the states where they reside.

So back to the crux questions: How does this effect you? Or the pot economy? And who are the key figures in this debate on a national level?

Well, the economy is taking it in stride. On Thursday, shares of publicly traded pot-related companies took a hit on Wall Street, but by Friday, those companies rebounded. As mentioned, financial experts say Sessions’ memo will discourage institutional investors, banks, and insurance agencies from investing in pot companies — because who knows when (or if) the Feds will go ballistic and start seizing assets of businesses engaged in federally-outlawed activity, as is their right under prevailing law. So, this does slow down the green march a tick.

But as it stands, nobody is expecting federal agents to start busting into state-approved dispensaries anytime soon. In fact, Sessions memo did not outline any specific actionable items or executive mandates on waging any sort of a pot war, beyond empowering and encouraging individual U.S. attorneys to prosecute pot offenses.

From here, the key people to watch in the national political debate are Jeff Sessions (who has had it out for legal weed from the beginning); Colorado Senator Cory Gardner (a Republican who voted to confirm Sessions as AG only after Sessions promised not to come after legal weed, which is a massive boon to his home state’s economy; the Senator is now livid and firing shots at having been betrayed); and White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders (who, in response to this debate, said on Thursday: “[Trump] believes in enforcing federal law. That would be his top priority, and that is regardless of what the topic is.”)

And for you constitutional law nerds, there is also the federalism debate. Remember federalism? Well, to save you a trip to dust off your Political Science 101 books, federalism is that debate that founding fathers had over states rights vs. federal rights. The crux issue: Should powers not specifically enumerated by the Constitution for the federal government be reserved for states? Typically the Republicans, who belong to our country’s “conservative” party, take a conservative view of federal powers, and thereby favor reserving powers for states to decide laws for themselves. Republicans are generally referred to as “states rights” advocates. But here, you have a Republican administration explicitly rejecting state-autonomy when it comes to weed law, and instead “returning trust to federal prosecutors.” And so, on a strictly theoretical and principled level, the Republican view on marijuana is a betrayal of their party’s core political disposition. But you know, nobody wants to talk theory when it’s inconvenient. And this role reversal between Democrats and Republicans on federal and states rights has been afoot for a minute now — see also healthcare.

As it stands, the States that have already legalized weed are promising to fight back. This is due to a shifting landscape in which states-level officials are now aligned with the pot movement, regardless of their political party, because money talks, and they’ve seen the receipts of a booming $1 billion national pot economy.

So the political fallout of this will be interesting to watch. In fact, if you wanted, you could view the Sessions memo as the Trump administration’s latest shot at California, the hugely populous state that not only just legalized weed, but also regularly beefs with Trump on immigrant rights, sanctuary cities, and offshore oil drilling. But you also have to keep in mind that it’s not just liberal states who are benefitting from weed’s ascendance: as mentioned earlier, coming down on pot will severely affect the financial bottom line for a swing state like Colorado, who wouldn’t look like kindly to being undercut by reactionary memorandum like this one. Colorado is the sort of purple state Trump will need come 2020, let alone 2018, meaning the political ramifications of this fight to get green gets trickier, one memo at a time.



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