The election of President Donald Trump brought a great deal of trepidation to the world of cannabis. There was not a clear message at first from the Trump administration on its stance towards the legalization of cannabis. The President himself stated he would not have his administration crack down on cannabis businesses during the 2016 campaign while in Colorado. President Trump then tasked Jeff Sessions with being the Attorney General of the United States shortly after taking office which confused many people since Sessions is vehemently opposed to the legalization of cannabis. In early 2018 Jeff Session rolled back the Cole Memo which had advised U.S. attorneys around the country to not pursue state legal cannabis businesses or consumers. The result was a slow down in the growth of the cannabis industry as investors pulled back their interests in marijuana companies in fear of a justice department crackdown on the industry.
Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, one of the first adult-use states, became particularly infuriated by the attorney general rescinding the Cole Memo and felt the President was going back on his promises while on the campaign trail to let states decide. As a member of the committee that appoints justice department nominees, Senator Gardner vowed and did block all nominations making life very difficult for Jeff Sessions. After a private call with the President, Senator Gardner pulled his blockade telling reporters that he had the President’s word that he would not allow the attorney general to go after state legal cannabis business. Soon after the call Senator Gardner introduced The STATES Act, a bill co-sponsored by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, that would remove cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance and resolve all banking problems marijuana companies are facing currently, if it passes. President Trump told reporters that he knew what Senator Gardner was doing and that he would likely back the bill providing his tentative support. Of all the bills introduced in Congress that would end the prohibition on cannabis, The STATES Act likely has the most promise since it has bi-partisan sponsorship.
The President has a lot to gain politically speaking by backing marijuana legalization. A record high 64% of Americans now support legalizing marijuana at the federal level, including 51% of Republicans, according to a recent Gallup poll. Even in deep-red Oklahoma, voters recently overwhelmingly approved a medical marijuana law through a ballot initiative that was opposed by the entire state GOP establishment. The medical marijuana program, if implemented as is, would be the most permissive in the country. North Dakota, which also votes republican, has collected enough votes to have a referendum question added to the ballot this November that would create an adult-use market if passed.
No matter what direction the current administration moves in, it is critical that cannabis business owners continue to monitor and stay up-to-date on cannabis legislation. The landscape is consistently changing, and if and when marijuana is removed from a Schedule 1 designation the federal government flood gates of regulation will open. Multiple federal agencies will have new requirements such as testing and liability coverage. Marijuana business owners should have a relationship with a knowledgeable insurance provider to help identify and mitigate risks.