Recently, White House press secretary Sean Spicer stated that he thought that there would be greater enforcement of marijuana by federal agencies, including in states where it has been legalized by referendum. This has brought a cloud of uncertainty over the future of the cannabis industry, which has emergences as one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, with legal market sales expected to break $22 billion in 2020.
Further contributing to this challenge is the fact that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has been known to be a very vocal opponent of cannabis. However, Spicer also said that the attitude the federal government takes towards medical marijuana would be very different than the attitude it takes towards recreational marijuana. Here is some information about the federal challenge of the cannabis industry…
The Cole Memo
In 2013, former President Barrack Obama ordered the Department of Justice to draft a memorandum that would deprioritize the federal enforcement of marijuana laws in states that had voted for legalization, particularly recreationally. This led to Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole drafting what is now known as the Cole Memo. This changed the prioritization of what the Department of Justice would enforce around the country. President Donald Trump has shown that he is open to the idea of rescinding the Cole Memo, which would officially change the policy of the Department of Justice, when it comes to addressing recreational marijuana usage in states that have voted for legalization.
Why it is unlikely to stop legalization
Although one can’t say for certain whether or not the federal government would follow through on threats to attack the cannabis industry in states that have voted for some form of legalization, there are a couple reasons that it would be unlikely to happen. On top of that, it is also unlikely that this would stop the tide towards legalization.
One has to consider whether the amount of political capital that would be burnt up in trying to prosecute individuals and tear down businesses that are following the laws of their states would be worth it. Indeed, it many lawyers believe that it could be political suicide to try to alter the voters will, particularly as voter support for legalization has reached 60% and tax revenues have reached to over $200 million, annually, in Colorado, alone.