By Alex Halperin | May 24, 2018
Americans want marijuana to be legal, or at least more legal. A recent Quinnipiac poll found 70 percent of Americans oppose federal interference in state-legal marijuana markets, and even more want some form of access for medical use.
In one recent sign of the solidifying bipartisan consensus, last month former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who once declared himself “unalterably opposed” to legalization, joined the advisory board of cannabis company Acreage Holdings. Boehner’s thinking evolved, he told Bloomberg, after seeing how cannabis benefited a friend with a bad back. Echoing statements he made as speaker, Boehner added, “We have literally filled up our jails with people who are nonviolent and frankly do not belong there.”
Beginning with California, which became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 and has since legalized it for recreational use, the states with the most fully developed cannabis industries have tilted Democratic. But the movement has begun to reach even some deep-red states. In June, Oklahoma voters will decide whether to legalize medical marijuana, and Utahans will likely vote on it in November. Polls predict both will pass easily. The important question of legalization is no longer whether to do it but how to do it. The involvement of Boehner in Acreage—as well as its other new adviser, former Republican Massachusetts Gov. William Weld—represents not just an embrace of marijuana by parts of the GOP but the emergence of a distinctly GOP way of regulating it. In a way, that’s encouraging for the normalization of the drug—but it’s also troubling, especially for proponents who want the emerging cannabis industry to reckon with the many racist outcomes of the drug’s past.
By Alex Halperin // January 5, 2018
On Thursday, marijuana-hating Attorney General Jeff Sessions invalidated a document that has served as the legal scaffolding for the state-level pushes to legalize recreational use of marijuana. There are, as Mark Joseph Stern writes in Slate, many reasons to believe that some kind of federal crackdown on marijuana could be in the works. But there are also plenty of reasons the legal marijuana industry no longer needs to fear a prohibitionist like Sessions.
Despite the initial surprise, the industry appeared to absorb the news with an appropriate sense of proportion. “This is not a sky-is-falling moment,” Kris Krane, president of 4Front, a company that operates medical cannabis businesses in four states, told me. “It may wind up being nothing.”
In his missive, Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, an August 2013 document named for its author, then–Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. The Cole memo guided federal prosecutors not to expend resources prosecuting state-legal marijuana businesses unless a case met one of eight law enforcement priorities, such as distributing pot to minors or trafficking product across state lines. Within the industry, and in legal practice, it was widely interpreted to mean working or investing in this federally illegal industry did not put people at risk of federal prosecution.
By Alex Halperin // March 16, 2017
n 2016, Americans bought about $7 billion of legal marijuana, roughly five times the 2013 total. Though the plant remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government, it is now the basis of what is arguably the country’s fastest growing industry.
California voters legalized cannabis for medical use in 1996, and additional states followed, but for years federal laws were arbitrarily enforced in those places. The industry’s rapid growth didn’t begin until after August 2013, when then–deputy U.S. Attorney General James M. Cole wrote a memo guiding federal law enforcement not to focus on marijuana businesses that followed state laws—even in the handful of states that were legalizing it for recreational use.
After the Cole Memo, companies felt more secure investing in their future. As the threat of federal prosecution dissipated, more skilled professionals joined the green rush. Colorado’s first recreational shops opened in January 2014, and they have thrived under the Cole Memo’s protection.
Since November, when then–Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions was nominated for U.S. attorney general, the marijuana world has been preoccupied with what he would do about the Cole Memo. Sessions, after all, opposes legalization and said last year that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Just this week, he called marijuana only “slightly less awful” than heroin.
BY Alex Halperin // December 16, 2016
On Election Day, California voted to become the world’s largest legal marijuana market, and seven more states also voted yes on recreational or medical pot. Initially, President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise win didn’t seem to pose an immediate threat to the legal pot industry; Trump isn’t popular in the cannabis world, but he’s not seen as a committed prohibitionist either. At a post-election industry conference in Vegas, the largest controversy involved a nearly naked model covered in cold cuts.
That outlook changed after Trump picked Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, as his nominee for attorney general. While many conservatives have relaxed their views on both marijuana and criminal penalties for drug offenses, Sessions evidently has not. “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington saying marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized,” he said at a hearing in April. “It is in fact a very real danger.”
To liberals, the Sessions nomination is, as the New York Times editorialized, “an insult to justice.” Sessions had been rejected for a federal judgeship in 1986 due to concerns that he’s a racist. His nomination in 2016 to the far more powerful position of attorney general raised an immediate outcry from, among others, those concerned with treatment of undocumented immigrants, the rights of LGBTQ and Muslim Americans, and supporters of criminal justice reform and police accountability.
The legal marijuana industry, which is anticipated to top $6 billion in sales this year, also has reason to fear Sessions, but its response has been much more muted. The National Cannabis Industry Association, the industry’s largest lobby, released a statement saying that it looked forward to working with Attorney General Sessions. They think it’s safer to weather his tenure at the Justice Department than to fight it.