- Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime opponent of cannabis, rescinded an Obama-era policy directing the Justice Department to keep its hands off of state-legal cannabis.
- The Justice Department's new guidance leaves it up to federal prosecutors to decide how aggressively to pursue cannabis, which is legal for adult use in eight states.
- Some investors, who are savvy at operating within the cannabis industry's regulatory structure, see Sessions' move as an opportunity.
The Justice Department on Wednesday fired its long-awaited opening shot at the cannabis industry.
The move has lawmakers on both sides of the aisle scrambling to figure out what the change means for the eight states, including California, that have legalized the plant for adult use, as well as the 29 states where medical cannabis is legally prescribed to patients.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, both voiced their opposition to the announcement, and public cannabis companies saw their stocks nosedive on Thursday morning.
But many investors and entrepreneurs who have years of experience operating in the cannabis industry were unperturbed.
What Sessions move actually does, and doesnt do
Sessions is a longtime opponent of cannabis — he once joked in 1986 that the Klu Klux Klan was "
"The Justice Department's new directive leaves the legal status of cannabis up to 93 US Attorneys," Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat who's seeking to become the governor of his home state in 2018, said in a call with reporters. "Whatever side of the bed they wake up on, that's what happens with cannabis."
On the same call, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, said he thinks Sessions has "forgotten state's rights, and forgotten the Tenth Amendment".
Investors see an opportunity in chaos
Krista Whitley is the CEO of Nevada-based Altitude Products, a company that sells accoutrements for cannabis consumers. She said she's seen a "cooling off" of high-net worth individual investors looking to jump into the cannabis industry in the few days since Sessions' announcement.
The move "spooked several investors w
cannabis businesses clamp down on complying with state regulations.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are fighting back
Lawmakers are vowing to fight Sessions' move in order to protect an industry that could provide thousands of jobs and billions in tax revenue in states where cannabis is legal. In California alone, the state is predicted to rake in $1.4 billion in cannabis-generated tax by 2021.
Sen. Gardner — who voted to confirm Sessions last year — has vowed to withhold Justice Department nominees until Sessions backs off of state-legal cannabis. Reps. Polis of Colorado, Rohrabacher of California, and Blumenauer of Oregon are urging both parties to support an amendment on the House's next budget bill that prohibits the Justice Department from spending money on enforcing federal law against medicinal cannabis.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers has public opinion on their side. Approximately 51% of Republicans and 64% of Americans overall support cannabis legalization, according to a recent Gallup poll.
"Ending the Cole Memo will simply mobilize those of us who support cannabis and support state's rights," Rohrabacher said. "Jeff [Sessions] is representing a mindset from the 1950's."