“The quickening is happening” – Christopher Lambert as Connor McCloud in The Highlander.
If you are not familiar with the sword fighting, cult classic movie, Highlander, the quickening is a gathering of all the last immortals left on earth to battle it out until there is only one left. One immortal cannot die unless his head is removed from his body, so things won’t get that exciting in the legal cannabis space, yet.
Today, Jeff Sessions started the marijuana quickening. If you are buried inside on the East Coast due to the Blizzard Cyclone Explosion storm, let me update you on the big news in the cannabis business this morning.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded the Department of Justice policy that directed federal law enforcement not to target individuals or businesses that are in compliance with state law.
In a memo to federal prosecutors dated January 4, Sessions said, “In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the Department’s finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions. …. Given the Department’s well-established general principles, previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately.”
From August 2013 until yesterday, the Department of Justice policy had been not to enforce federal marijuana laws against individuals or businesses in states that are complying with state medical or adult-use marijuana laws, provided that one of eight federal priorities are not implicated. A Department of Justice task force subcommittee on marijuana policy recommended in August that the policy described in the 2013 Cole memo be maintained going forward.
And the cannabis world is in full panic mode right now.
Canadian cannabis stocks tanked to start the day, even though this is good news for them as it means that USA cannabis players must stay out of the international cannabis game even longer.
Why is this move by Sessions a good move for the cannabis industry? It may bring the day of federal reckoning for cannabis much closer now.
How is that good?
Let’s walk back a few steps in cannabis history and see how things have progressed so far the cannabis legal states. 29 states have approved some form of medical and/or recreational cannabis. Each November, a handful of new states vote on allowing medical or recreational cannabis. Each year we add anywhere from 2 to 4 states to the list of states allowing at least medical cannabis.
We have a president who seems ambivalent on the subject, as he is neither a drinker or a smoker. We have an attorney general who is stuck in 1967 Alabama and seems hell bent on restarting the failed “War on Drugs”.
With each passing year, we gain a few states and medical programs, but the shadow of federal law hangs over every new state and business in the industry.
Jeff Sessions just sped up “Weed D Day”. That is a good thing for all the businesses, people, capital, and money coming into the industry in America. Having a legal limbo for thousand of people and millions of dollars in tax revenue is not helping anyone. The process of getting a federal answer on legal cannabis seemed years away with Trump and his re-election in the back over everyone’s mind. Now, we have Sessions forcing the issue, and just 96 hours after California, the 3rd largest GDP in Europe if it were a country, approving and selling recreational cannabis.
Again, why is this good for cannabis?
To all businesses and startups, time is money. The longer the wait, the more money people need in order to "hang in there" and wait for some sort of Federal change. Whether you are talking about banking, merchant accounts, growing, expanded facilities, deliveries, etc. Waiting around for a final “Super Bowl of Weed” was painful and costly, let’s get there quicker.
Think we are crazy?
It is already happening.
Senator Corey Gardner of Colorado has started a Tweet storm by claiming Sessions basically lied to America at his confirmation hearings by doing this move today and that he would “take all steps necessary, including holding the DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation”.
Tom Angell, noted cannabis reporter and inside Washington reporter, noted that there is a “huge collection of members of Congress from both parties that are pushing back hard against Jeff Sessions anti-marijuana move.”
We may see a quasi-government shutdown, hence forcing a Trump or Federal decision on scheduling or de-scheduling.
Jeff Sessions just took a subject Trump may have never had to really address, and brought it front and center to the American people and Federal government.
He may have just forced the Federally government’s hand to decide on re-scheduling cannabis, and with marijuana legalization now running at over 65% favorability it most polls, we know which way politicians will vote. (That also includes a majority of Republican’s for the first time favor medical marijuana programs).
Keep in mind that politicians are elected, so they must live and die by public approval and voting polls. If 65% of Americans approve of medical cannabis, which way do you think politicians looking to get re-elected are going to vote? Do you think states with millions of dollars of new tax revenue from cannabis are going to let that just get shut down or turned off because Jeff Session doesn’t like marijuana?
Noted cannabis advocate, founder of Ardent Cannabis, and attorney Shanel Lindsay of Massachusetts said, “If it is a catalyst for a massive pushback that results in a permanent legislative change at the federal level, it could end up as a positive.”
Charles X. Gormally and John D. Fanburg, attorneys at Brach Eichler also noted this morning that, “Sessions’ move fails to address failed prohibition policies and makes the law a symbolic rather than a practical instrument. However, the implications cannot be overlooked by anyone with jurisdictional authority in any branch of government.”
Michele Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute said, “This move by Attorney General Jeff Sessions is out-of-step with public opinion and negates the choice made by voters in 29 states on marijuana regulation. States and their citizens have the constitutional right to decide these matters for themselves without undue federal interference. It’s time for Congress to intervene, change our outdated federal drug laws, and restore choice to the American people.
Hillary Bricken, writing for the Canna Law Blog, noted in her article today that:
Sessions’ move will increase confusion for both U.S. Attorneys and states, but I have been representing cannabis businesses in California and Washington for eight years now and I am confident that Western States like California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington are not going to back down in the face of Jeff Sessions’ overzealous pursuit of his personal war on marijuana. Indeed, these (and other) states’ positions may ultimately speed up bonafide legal challenges that finally call into question in a real way the constitutionality of marijuana’s current scheduling and states’ rights to legalize and be left alone.
The news may have been shocking at first, but like all good medicine, it may help heal the patient quicker. The "Cannabis D Day" that may have been 2 years or even 6 years off with this administration, now appears headed for a direct decision in the next 6 months.