A hazy future for marijuana

photo via Pexels.com / Noridah Yazid
photo via Pexels.com / Noridah Yazid

In his first act of 2018, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memorandum, which functioned as a roadmap for how the federal government dealt with individual states with legalized recreational and medical marijuana. The memorandum prevented marijuana growers, distributors and users in states with legal status from being arrested and prosecuted under federal law. This move has been widely anticipated since last year when Sessions, a long-time opponent of legal marijuana, was appointed.

The rescindment is being made despite repeated promises from President Donald Trump and his administration over the last two years to uphold statewide marijuana laws. According to a Pew Research Survey, 61 percent of Americans favor federal legalization of the plant.

A number of legal-marijuana advocates see this as the first step in a larger campaign to outlawing recreational marijuana, a product that has created over 19,000 jobs in the state, according to a statement by Oregon Governor Kate Brown. Oregon politicians have responded overwhelmingly with resistance to the move, with U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley describing the decision as “destructive” and a “huge step backwards.”

“Reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will roll back federal marijuana policies are deeply concerning and disruptive to our state’s economy,” Brown said in a statement on Thursday, vowing to fight the potential campaign. “The federal government must keep its promise to states that relied on its guidance.”

“We will continue working with our federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners to pursue shared public safety objectives,” Oregon Attorney General Billy Williams said in response to the move. “[Placing] an emphasis on stemming the overproduction of marijuana and the diversion of marijuana out of state, dismantling criminal organizations and thwarting violent crime in our communities.”

“The move by Sessions will generate temporary confusion — particularly for institutions [such as] investors, banks [and] insurance [providers] who are considering participation in the industry. For those already participating it will be more difficult to access investment money and services, so the industry will probably grow a bit slower than it would otherwise,” a representative of Cottage Grove-based marijuana seed company, New Breed Seed, said.  “I doubt, however, that the US Attorney in states with legal cannabis will take action against state-legal businesses or the state as a whole. In a best-case scenario, the move may force legislation to protect the industry, at least at the state level.”

While the rescindment of the Cole Memorandum leaves the future for the marijuana industry ambiguous, business continues for dispensaries and grow operations here in Lane County.