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.
— Cheddar (@cheddar) May 3, 2017
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.”