It looks like President-elect Trump intends to name Senator Jeff Sessions as his new Attorney General. As I mentioned in the last post about Trump’s pot policy, Sessions has been hostile to marijuana for a long time. Here is a general flavor of Sessions talking about marijuana:
Not very encouraging. So where does that leave us? Just because Sessions doesn’t like marijuana does not automatically mean increased law enforcement action against it. Any federal attempt to roll back cannabis’s big gains would be incredibly unpopular politically, and it seems Sessions wants to focus on national security, terrorism, and immigration as his primary areas of focus. He may rant and rave against marijuana, but actions speak loudest, and taking action may be too costly.
Sessions is also limited in what he can do, so long as the federal spending bill says that the federal government cannot spend money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws.
Still, that means recreational laws and people that participate in recreational marijuana businesses must remain cautious. There is nothing stopping federal agents from raiding marijuana businesses, as possession, distribution, and manufacture of marijuana remain illegal under federal law. The Cole Memo isn’t going to stop them, and Sessions can withdraw that memo with the stroke of a pen. Logistically, there simply are not enough federal agents to enforce federal marijuana laws everywhere, but that won’t necessarily stop them from targeting big players.
If this issue is important to you, please call your state’s Senators, particularly if they serve on the Judiciary Committee, to let them know the cannabis issue is important to you. Sessions has to go through a confirmation process. Last time he tried this, in 1986, he was rejected for having made racist comments in his past. I doubt he will be rejected this time (there will be far less qualified nominees for other positions, and the Republican-controlled Senate won’t reject everybody). But political pressure on him to maintain his focus on real law enforcement and leave marijuana policy to the states can have a real impact.
As cannabis lawyers, we will obviously be watching what happens pretty closely but mostly continuing to move forward with business (in Washington, Oregon and California) as usual. Or as Hilary Bricken from my firm put it in an interview regarding what to expect with California cannabis:
Bricken says she and other lawyers with clients in the marijuana business are paying close attention to the trend in federal law, but they aren’t slowing down in anticipation of a new administration. “If the federal government goes around arresting attorneys, then we have a constitutional crisis on our hands. But for us, it’s business as usual until we get some dramatic turnaround.” And even in that event, she says, “I wouldn’t be afraid to take up the fight.”