The past week has been a huge success for the legal cannabis industry. A provision in the renewed budget bill (Rohrabacher-Farr amendment) will continue to protect states with medical cannabis laws from federal intervention – at least for now.
The bill, which will likely pass this week, is only valid until the end of September.
For US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has a dark reputation for his conservative, traditional beliefs surrounding cannabis, this means that his efforts to kneecap the establishment of medical cannabis in the country has been derailed. Without funding from Congress, his ability to enforce his strict views is severely limited.
Sessions isn’t going down without a fight, as his focus now shifts to states with fully legal cannabis laws. Unfortunately, the amendment only covers legal cannabis on a medicinal level, leaving states with recreational laws in limbo.
Should the Attorney General move forward with his plans, which are still very nascent and vague, retail cannabis stores based in Alaska, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and California, could be targeted and badly affected.
Should business owners who are deeply invested in the emerging industry be worried about Session’s statements surrounding recreational cannabis? According to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), the answer could be no.
Governor Hickenlooper reveals more
In a recent interview with Cheddar Founder and CEO Jon Steinberg (previously President and COO of BuzzFeed), the Governor provided a glimpse of his recent meeting with Sessions.
“I’m not going to do anything that in any way encourages someone to open a marijuana sales store or a marijuana grow. You’re not going to hear me say a word that will encourage anyone in any way. That being said, we’ve got higher priorities. We don’t have unlimited resources,”
reported Gov. Hickenlooper when asked what the Attorney General said during the meeting.
The “higher priorities” Sessions was referring to includes hard drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines. During the meeting, he failed to clarify his stance on alcohol abuse, which is responsible for roughly 88,000 deaths per year..
To reassure active participants in the recreational cannabis sector, Gov. Hickenlooper provided his own take away from the meeting:
“He [Sessions] was basically saying that the people in this industry better be clean; if they have a problem with the local government, who knows what the federal government will do. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he closed somebody down every now and then to make a statement, but it’s not his highest priority.”
His two-step insight is key to avoiding Session’s wrath over the industry. As long as businesses closely adhere to local cannabis laws that are designed to protect them, they should be able to avoid run-ins with the feds.
As for the second part of Gov. Hickenlooper’s takeaway, it seems to be a warning as to what could potentially happen to groups who don’t follow state guidelines surrounding legal cannabis. Since it’s not the Attorney General’s “highest priority” (and due to lack of funding), it is very unlikely that he will go out of his way to disassemble law-abiding businesses.
With the new government in place, many policy items have been left up in the air. From healthcare to immigration, every policy directive from previous administrations have been up for review, with marijuana legalization being one of them.
Early on, it was reported that Colorado’s marijuana policy would be reviewed, and there was the possibility of federal crackdowns. Now, however, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper says he doesn’t think a crackdown is coming, and both the cannabis industry and its fan should take note of this development.
A recent meeting in Washington between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Governor John Hickenlooper suggests that a federal crackdown will not be occurring any time soon…if it occurs at all. According to Hickenlooper’s chief of staff, Doug Friednash, the hour-long conversation Sessions and Hickenlooper was mainly revolved around discussing Colorado’s cannabis laws, as well as the threat of federal intervention. However, Friednash stated that the meeting went extremely well, and described it as “amicable.”
According to Governor Hickenlooper, Attorney General Sessions explained during their meeting that the cannabis industry isn’t his highest priority:
“I’m not going to do anything that in any way encourages someone to open a marijuana sales store or a marijuana grow. You’re not going to hear me say a word that will encourage anyone in any way. That being said, we’ve got higher priorities. We don’t have unlimited resources.”
Friednash further stated that the main takeaway from this meeting were understanding the priorities of the current attorney general. It seems as though Sessions is currently far more fixated on other policy issues, such as immigration, and securing the border with a wall rather than disrupting the legal cannabis marketplace.
Understanding the marketplace
During the meeting, Hickenlooper provided an overview of the Colorado marijuana marketplace. Noting that he was initially working against legalization, Hickenlooper emphasized that Colorado lawmakers and regulators have implemented a good system that is only getting better. The governor also noted since legalization, there has not been a rise in teenager user of the drug. Emergency room visits have seen a decrease, and regulatory laws regarding edibles have made the latter much safer. Hickenlooper also discussed the state’s initiative to tighten loopholes that have seen large amounts of marijuana entering states where it has not been legalized.
However, Sessions did note that his office was reviewing a directive, also known as the Cole memo that originated during the Obama administration. The Cole memo centers around feds allowing states with legalized marijuana to operate “without undue interference.” Sessions stated during the meeting that he found the Cole
memo “not too far from good policy.”
This has great implications down the line, and comes as welcome news. Both Hickenlooper and Sessions were correct in reaching out to another, and establishing a line of communication. Substantive policy decisions centered around marijuana policy seemed like looming threats earlier, but that seems to have diminished as the administration ponders different issues.
Politics remain somewhat unpredictable though, and there is always a chance that the tide could shift. Trump, and his administration are known for shifting stances easily, and perhaps marijuana policy will become a focal point again. The administration has consistently put forward mixed messages in this regard, with Trump stating during the campaign trail that states would be left alone. The medical market is at least protected through the most recent budget deal approved by Congress, and as a result Sessions is left without funding to attack legal medical businesses. However, White House spokesman Sean Spicer has said that there would be greater enforcement on recreational sales.
Medical market protection
Hickenlooper argued against Sean Spicer’s statement though, stating that crackdowns on recreational marijuana would not lead to any real progress. In fact, Hickenlooper argued, medicinal marijuana usage would see huge spikes as recreational owners would switch over. And it has become obvious over the years that there is a large number of doctors willing to provide that prescription.
Friednash also argued against Sean Spicer’s position, stating, “You would just be trading one problem for another,” and also added that a policy change such as that would lead to more gray- and black-market conditions.
Ultimately, the most important point to note out of this is that the governor and attorney general ended the meeting on a very positive note. Both agreed to share information that would aid in federal decision-making. As the Denver Post editorial puts it, “the substance of the meeting in and of itself should comfort those worried about the chaos that would result if the feds decided to crash the Colorado experiment.”
Congress has thwarted the Justice Department’s ability to fight medical marijuana legalization at the state level, thanks to a renewed amendment in the federal budget.
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, introduced in 2003 and finally passed in 2014, prohibits federal funds being used to “prevent any [states] from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana,” according to the amendment’s text. The amendment has appeared in budget bills ever since.
“Medical cannabis patients in the U.S. can rest easy knowing they won’t have to return to the black market to acquire their medicine,” said Jeffrey Zucker, president of Green Lion Partners. “Operators can relax a bit knowing their hard work isn’t for naught and their employees’ jobs are safe.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear he believes cannabis is dangerous, meant for bad people, worse than heroin, and whose medicinal properties are over-hyped. Although his beliefs are based on assumptions and false data, leaders in the cannabis industry have been worried about what damage he could inflict upon their businesses.
States that have legalized recreational marijuana may still be concerned, since the amendment only covers medical marijuana efforts. Sessions suggested that he may use his new position to obstruct legalization.
“I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.” he said in briefing.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, and all of them could potentially face federal prosecution. But Sessions may have a difficult time financing such an effort against a $6.7 billion industry. A recent Gallup poll revealed 60 percent of American support legalization. This makes any significant move against the legal cannabis industry ill-advised, especially after a presidential pledge to not interfere. Trump’s promise to honor state’s rights played well among conservative voters, who supported his campaign and marijuana legalization in roughly equal measure.
So while Sessions may want to renew the war on marijuana, it is unlikely he would have White House support, nor will he have Congressional support through the federal budget.
Medical marijuana is safe for now, but advocates will perhaps focus their efforts on full-legalization. “While this is great as a continuing step, it’s important for activists and the industry to remain vigilant and getting cannabis federally unscheduled and truly ending the prohibition of this medicinal plant,” said Zucker.
At a recent address to law enforcement officials about crime and drugs America’s new Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he was “determined that this country will not go backwards” and then preceded to make some of the most assbackwards statements about medical marijuana possible.
“We need to say, as Nancy Reagan said, ‘Just say no.’ There’s no excuse for this, it’s not recreational. Lives are at stake, and we’re not going to worry about being fashionable.”
He said, according to the Washington Post.
As if holding up the Reagan Drug War legacy like it was a golden era is not already backwards enough, he then dismissed what has been one of medical marijuana’s most promising modern day uses: opioid addiction.
“I’ve heard people say we could solve our heroin problem with marijuana,”
“How stupid is that? Give me a break!”
Well, stupid is as stupid does as someone used to say, and that’s some stupid shit Sessions. But if we are talking about actual science there is nothing that has become more clear recently than cannabis’s amazing ability to help individuals get off of not just heroin but also prescription opioid painkiller addiction, which is actually a more serious problem.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), powerful painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin are responsible for more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined, but you are surely not going to hear Sessions and his new Drug War team going after them – even though that would be moving forwards instead of backwards.
Fortunately, for those of use that know anything about the miraculous benefits of cannabis, the future is looking pretty green despite Session’s claims that the mighty herb has been “hyped-up”.
First of all, cannabis is one of the most powerful painkillers in the world. According to a recent news release by the National Academy of Sciences, the treatment of chronic pain is one of the primary therapeutic uses of marijuana and it has been found to be effective for everything from mild lower back pain to severe multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms.
This is of course why medical marijuana users actually have a lower rate of using opioids and getting addicted in the first place. As a 2016 study in the Journal of Pain found; “cannabis use was associated with 64 percent lower opioid use in patients with chronic pain,”, meaning people are self-medicating with pot in order to avoid using dangerous prescription painkillers. This alone should be reason to make it widely available.
When it comes to actual heroin addiction, which is at an “alarming” 20 year high, according to a recent UN report, medical marijuana is the best way to actually move forward, despite Session’s infantile doublespeak.
According to a February 2017 press release from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York; “cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid in the marijuana plant devoid of rewarding properties, reduces the rewarding properties of opioid drugs and withdrawal symptoms.”
“Additionally, CBD directly reduces heroin-seeking behavior.”
The press release states, also adding that
“CBD’s strongest effects were on the reduction of the anxiety induced by heroin cues.”
CBD is of course an extremely abundant and medicinal compound that also happens to be non –psychoactive meaning that any Drug War argument against it falls flat on its face as there is simply no “high” behind it at all.
Moreover, a simple natural substance that not only reduces the withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin addiction but the cravings that make it so hard to break and doesn’t even alter your state of mind in the process only proves how far removed from reality Session’s statements really are. Cannabis is a miracle medicine that is here to help us with even our toughest problems, serious addiction included.
The only possible reason that the government would want to keep marijuana away from the public is because there is serious money involved (tens of billions of dollars annually) in the prescription opiate game, no matter how dangerous.
By pretending to protect patients by attacking a real medicine like cannabis, Sessions only reveals that he is just another corporate flunkie protecting the big business kingpens who control him and the rest of the White House at this point. But Mama Marijuana is coming for them too.
That multi-billion dollar prescription industry is facing off against a plant so powerful that you would have to be blind to not see how this is going to play out. Why would you take an expensive chemical drug for your pain that is both potentially dangerous and addictive when a completely safe and natural alternative is available?
Legal marijuana is now the fastest growing industry in the United States and that’s only going to increase velocity as more and more states pass laws for medical and recreational use. Check out the chart below from the Washington Post that shows that in states that have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes, prescriptions for a wide class of pharmaceuticals have dropped significantly. The most dramatic drop being in, you guessed it, painkiller prescriptions where the average doctor is prescribing almost 2,000 less prescriptions for these synthetic opioids a year.
That’s punching big holes in the corporate bigwigs’ pockets.
It also explains why the largest adversaries to the legalization are the pharmaceutical companies themselves. In Arizona for example, the biggest campaign contributions to the anti prop 205 campaigns were from Insys Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company that produces painkillers. While 205, which would have legalized medical marijuana, was defeated, the margin was very small and the masses are already rallying for the next brawl. Its only a matter of time.
In fact, the latest poll out of Quinnipiac University shows that over 90 percent of Americans now support the medical use of marijuana, the highest number ever.
Despite the posturing, America is not going back to the Reagan era of waging war against medical plants that are actually solving problems that big corporations have only made worse – like opioid addiction. Jeff Sessions can stay stuck on stupid for as long as he wants because the tide has turned and the only thing better than see an idea whose time has come blossom into fruition is seeing an idea that was bad to begin with get swept away with the flotsam and the jetsam.