Rev­er­sal of Obama-era stance stirs pot in­dus­try

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - JEN­NIFER KA­PLAN AND POLLY MOSENDZ

NEW YORK — The cannabis in­dus­try was rat­tled af­ter White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Thurs­day that he ex­pects the Depart­ment of Jus­tice to in­crease en­force­ment of fed­eral laws pro­hibit­ing recre­ational pot, even in states where it’s al­ready le­gal.

Along with the Dis­trict of Columbia, eight states have le­gal­ized recre­ational use among adults, in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia, Maine, Mas­sachusetts, and Ne­vada just this past Novem­ber. That means one in five Amer­i­can adults can smoke, vape, drink, or eat cannabis as they please un­der state law.

Mean­while, more than half of the na­tion’s states, in­clud­ing Arkansas, have le­gal­ized med­i­cal mar­i­juana de­spite fed­eral laws pro­hibit­ing its sale. The in­dus­try is es­ti­mated to be worth more than $ 6 bil­lion and will hit $50 bil­lion by 2026, ac­cord­ing to Cowen & Co.

“To­day’s news com­ing out of the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­gard­ing the adult use of cannabis is, of course, dis­ap­point­ing,” Derek Peter­son, CEO of mar­i­juana cul­ti­va­tor Terra Tech Corp., said Thurs­day in a state­ment. “We have hoped and still hope that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment will re­spect states’ rights in the same man­ner they have on sev­eral other is­sues.”

A crack­down on the in­dus­try would re­verse ex­ist­ing fed­eral pol­icy. For­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion largely de­ferred to the states. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has gone back and forth on the is­sue of le­gal­iza­tion.

Some in the cannabis in­dus­try see the fed­eral rev­er­sal as a con­tra­dic­tion of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s stated po­si­tions on state’s rights and job cre­ation.

“To have Mr. Spicer say in one sen­tence that they’re a state’s rights ad­min­is­tra­tion and in the very next sen­tence say they’re go­ing to crack down … it just de­fies logic,” said Robert Capec­chi, direc­tor of fed­eral poli­cies for the Mar­i­juana Pol­icy Project, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that lob­bies for pot-friendly changes to drug-re­lated leg­is­la­tion.

The in­dus­try is also an abun­dant source of rev­enue, ac­cord­ing to Pa­trece Bryan, pres­i­dent of Cannabrand, a pot-fo­cused mar­ket­ing firm. New Fron­tier Data says the cannabis in­dus­try will cre­ate more than 283,000 jobs by 2020.

“This is ab­surd. For a pres­i­dent who ran un­der the ban­ner of job cre­ation, he ac­tu­ally needs to start look­ing at where the jobs are be­ing cre­ated,” she said. “With Colorado gen­er­at­ing $1.8 bil­lion over a 10-month pe­riod, this is Amer­ica’s new agri­cul­ture. Why would we take this rev­enue away from our coun­try?”

The Drug Pol­icy Al­liance echoed Bryan’s point, not­ing that elim­i­nat­ing part of the le­gal cannabis mar­ket would mean “wip­ing out tax-pay­ing jobs and elim­i­nat­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in taxes.”

Still, not ev­ery­one was fran­tic about Spicer’s com­ments. The tacit en­dorse­ment of med­i­cal pot use was com­fort­ing, said Allen St. Pierre, a part­ner at Strate­gic Al­ter­na­tive In­vest­ments, which fo­cuses on mar­i­juana. Ian Eisen­berg, founder of Seat­tle-based pot re­tailer Un­cle Ike’s, was also san­guine.

“Af­ter the feds learn how well reg­u­lated Wash­ing­ton’s adult use and med­i­cal cannabis mar­kets are, they will leave it sta­tus quo,” he said. Be­tween July 2014 and April 2016, the state re­port­edly col­lected close to $200 mil­lion in tax rev­enue on cannabis.

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