Jeff Sessions is not a fan of marijuana. He gave federal prosecutors the green light to go after cannabis users, regardless what individual States had voted on. That was last January. Fast forward a year, and Sessions is long gone and we never really saw any fallout in the industry as a result of his hard stance on the drug.
Now, there’s William Barr, who Donald Trump has nominated for the position. To say that Barr is a bit more relaxed on the topic is a bit of an understatement. While he’s not about to push for the legalization of marijuana just yet, he’s definitely not interested in pursuing cannabis companies with the same vigor. He stated that, “As discussed at my hearing, I do not intend to go after parties who have complied with state law in reliance on the Cole Memorandum.”
The Cole Memo essentially told federal prosecutors to not go after marijuana companies that were following State marijuana laws. What was problematic with Sessions’ tough stance last year was that he rescinded that memo, which created a lot of ambiguity. On the one hand, if you smoked marijuana in a State that had legalized it you’d be okay with the State’s laws, but would still run the risk of being in trouble with the federal government.
It complicated a legal process that was already very complex to begin with.
Why this would be good news for the industry
Cannabis users and companies can breathe a little sigh of relief if Barr becomes Sessions’ replacement. At the very least, there will be less risk, real and perceived, when it comes to buying, selling, and using marijuana in States that have permitted it. It’s hard to gauge how much of an impact Sessions had on the industry, but it’s likely that he deterred some cautious investors and consumers.
As a result, we could see a lot more consumers opting to try pot now that the uncertainty could finally be put to rest.
What’s most encouraging about Barr, however, is that he appears to be much more open to allowing for research of marijuana. He stated that, “I support the expansion of marijuana manufacturers for scientific research consistent with law.”
He has also indicated that he will review cannabidiol (CBD) as a whole, which could open up more doors for the industry. Currently, CBD is still a Schedule I drug which makes doing business very difficult for cannabis companies. If reclassified out of that category, we could see a lot more growth for the industry in a big hurry. Although CBD derived from hemp has been legalized, that’s the only form of cannabis that’s been permitted thus far (federally, anyway).
Is this a sign of things to come?
Attitudes on pot have been changing in the U.S. and having an attorney general that isn’t taking such a hard stance on the drug could be what the industry needs to make some headway towards legalization. However, Barr has not yet been confirmed as attorney general and we could still see a different person assume that role. Ultimately, as long as Sessions isn’t in charge anymore, it’ll still likely be good news for the cannabis industry.