Two recent cabinet nominations from President-elect Donald Trump have people in the cannabis industry wondering if his administration will reverse the progress made in recent years towards national marijuana legalization.
Republicans Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama heading the Department of Justice and Rep. Tom Price of Georgia as the secretary for Health and Human Services would be somewhat of a one-two punch, considering their shared hard-line on drugs, particularly marijuana.
Should the two be confirmed, industry insiders predict a sweeping diversion of policy from the last eight years under President Barack Obama. In the Obama years, the Justice Department took a fairly laissez-faire approach to marijuana policy, allowing states to experiment with legalization while also upholding that marijuana is a controlled substance under federal law.
“We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized,” Sessions said at a Senate hearing last April. Marijuana, according to Sessions, “is a very real danger.” He even goes so far as to say that if we legalize or decriminalize marijuana, it will lead to an increase in “cocaine and heroin,” use more than it would have had we not pushed forth legalization polices.
As health secretary, Price would have some authority to restrict the availability of marijuana in states that have already legalized it for medicinal and recreational use. Health and Human Services, for example, could slap doctors with a penalty or take legal action against sellers of medical marijuana in states, as the substance is still listed as an illegal drug under federal law.
While serving in Congress, Price repeatedly voted against marijuana policy reforms. He even voted multiple times against measures that would allow physicians to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans studies say could benefit from it.
Joel Milton, CEO of Baker, the leading customer engagement platform for dispensaries, has some unique insights into what Sessions and Price could mean for the future of the marijuana industry in the U.S.
Milton thinks that everyone in the industry, from dispensary owners to growers to investors, “would have preferred if Trump chose individuals who were more open minded and progressive on cannabis, specifically medicinal cannabis,” he tells The Daily Caller News Foundation. The appointments, however, are not the end of the world for the progress the industry has made over the past few years.
“The sentiment of the people I speak with on a daily basis is the train has left the station. There is overwhelming bipartisan support for legalization,” Milton explains. “At the end of the day these guys are Republicans, and Republicans are historically good at protecting states rights. Many states have said they want to move forward. I think it well.”
More than 28 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for either recreational or medicinal use, and every year more states include ballot initiatives for legalization or decriminalization.
Milton acknowledges that Trump’s choice of Price is less concerning, as “Price is less tied to cannabis legislation than Sessions.” Sessions, on the other hand, is raising concerns.
“The pick of Sessions is frustrating. All we can hope is that Sessions, by taking a position power, will open his eyes to facts that show the positive benefits of cannabis,” Milton says.
States that have legalized marijuana have seen some incredible benefits: reduced violent crime rates, no increase in youth marijuana use or traffic fatalities, and increased tax revenue. Colorado got $113 million in tax revenue alone in 2015 from marijuana sales, and that figure is expected to grow to $140 million this year, the Tax Foundation reports.
The burgeoning industry brought droves of investors in to states with legalized cannabis, hungry for a piece of an ever growing lucrative pie. The news of Sessions and Price has some considering pulling out or pumping the breaks on new investment until they can clearly see what a Trump Administration will bring.
In his conversations with the investment community, Milton says that cannabis investors fall into two categories: those that have bought in wholeheartedly and those that are ambivalent about what Trump could mean for the future of the industry. “Those that are all in and are wholeheartedly in support of it, think Trump may slow progress down but this will keep going. For those people who aren’t bought in hook line and sinker, they see some hesitancy,” Milton explains.
Milton hopes that Trump, a notoriously successful businessman, will see the social and economic benefits to legalization. “Here is a guy whose platform is completely based on bringing jobs back to this country, and here is an industry that is booming here in America. It is taking money from the black market and is putting money in the hands of law abiding citizens.”
The chief executive does not think that a Clinton administration would have been any more favorable to the cannabis industry. Even though she hinted at making some more cannabis friendly policy changes, he does not think “it was a given she would have been positive for the industry either.”
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