Trump tells sen­a­tor he’ll leave state-le­gal pot pro­grams alone

Ses­sions’ hos­til­ity had many in in­dus­try on edge

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Trevor Hughes

Amer­ica’s fast-grow­ing mar­i­juana in­dus­try could be poised for su­per­charged ex­pan­sion af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump promised to re­spect state-le­gal­ized pot in a deal with a Colorado sen­a­tor who had been block­ing pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nees.

Re­pub­li­can Sen. Cory Gard­ner on Fri­day an­nounced he’d re­ceived as­sur­ances from the pres­i­dent that fed­eral agents would leave alone states like Colorado that have le­gal­ized recre­ational cannabis. Gard­ner had been block­ing nom­i­nees to the De­part­ment of Jus­tice over the is­sue since Jan­uary but re­lented Fri­day.

“Pres­i­dent Trump has as­sured me that he will sup­port a fed­er­al­ism-based leg­isla­tive so­lu­tion to fix this states’ rights is­sue once and for all,” he said in a state­ment.

Gard­ner didn’t elab­o­rate on what spe­cific leg­is­la­tion Trump said he would sup­port, al­though Congress is cur­rently con­sid­er­ing sev­eral bills that would le­gal­ize cannabis at the na­tional level.

The coun­try’s rapidly grow­ing mar­i­juana in­dus­try has strug­gled with fears Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion would al­ter the Obama-era pol­icy of let­ting le­gal­ized pot flour­ish in states where vot­ers ap­proved it. Many tra­di­tional in­vestors have shied away from pour­ing their cap­i­tal into the in­dus­try over fears they’d be treated like drug traf­fick­ers, and a strong sign of sup­port from Trump for con­gres­sional ac­tion might pro­vide the re­as­sur­ance they’re seek­ing.

Ma­son Tvert, a long­time mar­i­juana ac­tivist who helped lead Colorado’s le­gal­iza­tion ef­forts, wel­comed the news.

“It has been a long and dif­fi­cult process, but we may now be see­ing the light at the end of the tun­nel,” he said. “This is one more step to­ward end­ing the ir­ra­tional pol­icy of mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion, not only in Colorado but through­out the coun­try.”

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions is widely con­sid­ered hos­tile to cannabis, and in Jan­uary he re­scinded an Oba­maera memo as­sur­ing state-reg­u­lated mar­i­juana deal­ers that fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors would leave them alone if they fol­lowed state reg­u­la­tions in­tended to keep pot out of the hands of kids and money out of the hands of drug car­tels.

Nine states and the Dis­trict of Columbia have le­gal­ized recre­ational pot, al­though not all of them reg­u­late and per­mit re­tail sales. To­day, more than 60% of Amer­i­cans be­lieve recre­ational mar­i­juana should be le­gal, dou­ble its pop­u­lar­ity in 2000, ac­cord­ing to a Jan­uary poll by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter.

Med­i­cal pot ac­cess en­joys even stronger pop­u­lar­ity, numer­ous stud­ies have found. Thirty states and the Dis­trict of Columbia have le­gal­ized some form of med­i­cal cannabis, which al­ready en­joys spe­cial pro­tec­tion from Congress.

A fed­eral crack­down on cannabis risks tens of thou­sands of jobs and bil­lions of dol­lars in taxes that are al­ready fund­ing school con­struc­tion, home­less­ness ser­vices and col­lege schol­ar­ships.

Ses­sions’ rescis­sion of the memo to give pros­e­cu­tors more dis­cre­tion was widely in­ter­preted as a hos­tile move. But be­cause Trump said dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign that he would re­spect states’ rights to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana, the cannabis in­dus­try has grown in­creas­ingly frus­trated with the mixed mes­sages.

Mar­i­juana ad­vo­cates are push­ing Congress to drop pot as a Sched­ule 1 con­trolled sub­stance, which could give the in­dus­try broader ac­cep­tance, po­ten­tially open­ing up ac­cess to bank ac­counts, tra­di­tional in­vest­ing and even the abil­ity to ship prod­ucts across state lines.

Many lead­ing mar­i­juana in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives say they’d stopped wor­ry­ing that Trump and Ses­sions were truly tar­get­ing their busi­nesses.

“If Jeff Ses­sions wanted to shut the in­dus­try down, he could have shut the in­dus­try down,” said Les­lie Boc­skor, the founder of Elec­trum Part­ners, a cannabis in­vest­ment and ad­vi­sory firm. “He doesn’t want to kill it. In my opin­ion he’s try­ing to say to Congress, ‘Are you pay­ing at­ten­tion to the will of the Amer­i­can peo­ple?’ Ul­ti­mately, these peo­ple are po­lit­i­cal an­i­mals. If some­body who could kill it was go­ing to kill it, it would be dead al­ready. And they haven’t.”

TREVOR HUGHES/ USA TO­DAY

Mar­i­juana plants ma­ture in­side a grow­ing room at the Medicine Man cannabis dis­pen­sary in Den­ver.

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