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California Officials Respond to Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions

If you are in the cannabis industry, you probably heard the news yesterday which sent waves of fear and confusion throughout the country for every player in the marijuana market. Cannabis stocks took a dive, and everyone called their lawyers looking for hope and reassurance.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved to rescind the Cole Memo, the one piece of federal guidance the cannabis industry has had on which to base state and local regulations. The memo was put in place by former US Attorney General Eric Holder under the Obama administration and provided a directive to federal law enforcement about which circumstances would precipitate their involvement in a cannabis case. Unfortunately, this was merely a guideline and never an actual law, something misunderstood by many with investment in the marijuana world. Now, the outline of protection provided by the Cole Memo is gone, and cannabis operators can expect to begin seeing an uptick in police raids and asset forfeiture.

Of course, for those of us who have been fighting in the trenches for years on this issue, this is not totally a surprise. We have rolled our eyes at every person who has said in the past five years, “Legalization is inevitable.”

Legalization is not inevitable. This is a war, remember? And we can expect our opponents to fight with their last dying breaths.

Fortunately, we do have a battery of new weapons for the fight – we now have major institutions (state governments and regulatory bodies) which have embraced the new ethos of legal cannabis, for both medical and adult use, and public persons whose livelihoods are supported by an issue more popular than apple pie.

The timing of the announcement comes just on the heels of California’s official foray into legal sales for adult use. The response of our new allies has been quick and sharp.

Lori Ajax, Director of California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control:

“The administration is conferring with the California Attorney General and other states in response to this action. We expect the federal government to respect the rights of states and the votes of millions of people across America and if they won’t, Congress should act. Regardless, we’ll continue to move forward with the state’s regulatory processes covering both medicinal and adult-use cannabis consistent with the will of California’s voters, while defending our state’s laws to the fullest extent.”

California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who has long been a key ally on this issue, gave a solid soundbite with words echoing that of the broader drug policy reform movement:

“Jeff Sessions has destructively doubled down on the failed, costly, and racially discriminatory war on drugs, ignoring facts and logic, and trampling on the will of CA voters.

“Have no doubt — CA will pursue all options to protect our reforms and rights.”

California Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, co-sponsor of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment and longtime supporter of President Trump issued this statement:

“The attorney general of the United States has just delivered an extravagant holiday gift to the drug cartels. By attacking the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly favor marijuana legalization, Jeff Sessions has shown a preference for allowing all commerce in marijuana to take place in the black market, which will inevitably bring the spike in violence he mistakenly attributes to marijuana itself. He is doing the bidding of an out-of-date law enforcement establishment that wants to wage a perpetual weed war and seize private citizens’ property in order to finance its backward ambitions.

“This is a profound misreading of the Constitution, which allows states, not the heavy-handed federal government, to determine such issues. How ironic that the attorney general has long championed states’ rights when it suits other parts of his agenda! More than that, by attacking the clear will of the American people, the attorney general contradicts President Trump’s campaign pledges to leave medical and recreational marijuana questions for the states to decide. By taking this benighted minority position, he actually places Republicans’ electoral fortunes in jeopardy.”

Clearly, the fight is on. And as an old friend of mine once astutely observed about the movement: “We’ve already taken a stand. It’s not like we’re going to sit back down.”

Still, this recent move is a reminder that change does not come free or easily. I strongly encourage everyone in cannabis to give to the groups working hard for years to make progress in Washington, DC. Become a member of the National Cannabis Industry Association, whose primary goal is to represent the industry at the federal level, donate to groups such as Drug Policy Alliance and Students for Sensible Drug Policy which focus on ending social injustice related to the drug war and  Americans for Safe Access which has long fought the government on behalf of patients, particularly during federal raids.

There has never been a more important time than now to join the fight and get involved! Learn more about all the fast-changing parts of the cannabis industry at the next International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco, California, on February 1st and 2nd. Get your tickets today before prices go up!

Bureau of Cannabis Control, Dana Rohrabacher, Gavin Newsom, Lori Ajax, National Cannabis Industry Association