Why This Top Cannabis Attorney is Optimistic About Legalization, Even in the Sessions Era
Entire libraries have seemingly been written about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ distaste for canna- bis. We all know the 70-year-old former U.S. Senator from Alabama is not a fan of marijuana. We also know he is very much against the recreational pot sales already happening, and those yet to come online. But while most of the writing on the subject has signaled some sort of apocalypse for the le- galization movement — “Jeff Sessions’ Coming War on Legal Marijuana,” a lengthy Politico Magazine piece predicts — I’d like to approach this from a very different angle. The legal marijuana industry, which will create more than 250,000 jobs and be worth more than $22 billion by 2021, has legitimate concerns under Sessions, yes. But there is absolutely no reason for cannabis businesses to press the panic button just yet.
In fact if you look beyond Sessions’ off-handed tough talk on marijuana — the basis for most of the industry’s concern — and focus instead on what he’s directly said about his intentions for enforcing this new and burgeoning industry, you might even feel a growing optimism. I’m referencing a late- April meeting between Sessions and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper in Washington D.C. Earlier that month Hickenlooper, alongside the governors of Alaska, Oregon and Washington state, penned a letter to the Attorney General urging him to leave their state-legal retail cannabis industries alone.
After their face-to-face meeting Hickenlooper told MSNBC that Sessions “didn’t give me any reason to think that he’s going to come down and try and put everyone out of business. He certainly was very direct and clearly said they’ve got a lot of priorities, and, at one point, he said, ‘Well you haven’t seen us cracking down, have you?’” The Colorado Governor’s chief of staff later added that Sessions also talked about having far greater enforcement priorities than state-legal marijuana, but most im- portantly that the AG referred to the all-important Cole memo — an Obama administration directive that gives federal guidance to cannabis businesses — as “not too far from good policy.”
In a follow-up to his MSNBC comments, Hickenlooper said he expected Sessions to revise the Cole memo and doubled down on his expectation that the Attorney General (who he described as “honest,” “straightforward” and “direct”) won’t come after states with recreational cannabis. So instead of try- ing to read into Sessions’ many anti-cannabis remarks we should pay attention to what he’s directly saying about his Justice Department’s policy priorities. This is good news for the legal marijuana in- dustry — and some of cannabis’ biggest supporters in the federal government are recharging for the next push forward.
“The legalization train has left the station,” Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who co-founded the Con- gressional Cannabis Caucus earlier this year, recently told Buzzfeed. “There will never be another president elected who’s anti-cannabis. Mark my words. Public support is growing. The evidence is get- ting clearer. There are more of my colleagues that care about this issue.” And as Sessions’ enforce- ment intentions become clearer and legalization’s momentum continues to build at the federal level, many of the investors who stepped back from legal cannabis opportunities after President Donald Trump’s election are beginning to feel more confident about their investments in the industry’s future.
“My view in a nutshell: the voices of the 28 states that have voted for medical marijuana are so loud now,” Jeanne M. Sullivan, a New York-based investor and cannabis industry advisor, told Mashable. “And what about the thousands of new jobs that are being created, revenue, and tax revenue in the eight adult-use states? The current White House team cannot overlook that.” Jobs and escalating tax revenues — now that’s language Sessions and his boss understand.
Robert T. Hoban is a managing partner at the Hoban Law Group, America’s premier cannabusiness law firm. Hoban is the former president of the Cannabis Business Alliance and a member of the Na- tional Hemp Association, the National Cannabis Industry Association the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.