The forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have much larger implications for where Robert Mueller's investigation into President Donald Trump is heading, but ousting ol' Jeffy was a score for the marijuana industry.
Sessions has a long history of hating the plant, and the hits kept coming during his short time as AG. In the ’80s, he'd said that he thought members of the Ku Klux Klan "were okay until I found out they smoked pot." That didn't stop Trump from appointing Sessions to AG in 2017, however, and that's when the real madness began.
In less than two years on the job, Sessions delayed federally approved medical marijuana research, equated marijuana consumption with opioid abuse, and sent letters to states that had legalized pot expressing his concern and disapproval. But the real bomb dropped in January, when Sessions revoked the Cole Memorandum and nine years' worth of protective federal guidelines for state-compliant marijuana businesses and users.
Legal pot won't miss Sessions. "Attorney General Jefferson Sessions was a national disgrace. NORML hopes he finds the time during his retirement to seek treatment for his affliction of 1950s reefer madness," Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said in a statement following the AG's ouster on November 7.
Sessions's distaste for legalization conflicted with Trump's own stance; earlier this year, he said he'd likely support a bill proposed by Colorado Senator Cory Gardner that would stop federal interference with states that choose to legalize marijuana. And in fact, the Department of Justice didn't crack down on legal pot despite Sessions's saber-rattling.
"Did he have terrible opinions on marijuana? Absolutely. Did he seem to employ any of them in Justice Department practices? Not evidently," says Mason Tvert, a public relations manager for the Vicente Sederberg law firm as well as an advocate with the Marijuana Policy Project. "I've been having this conversation in a different form since Trump was elected: rumors of Sessions being the AG, Sessions being confirmed, the Cole memo revocation — it's all the same conversation, but we've been moving forward."
Tvert doesn't expect interim AG Matthew Whitaker (who voiced his dismay with the state-federal conflicts of legalizing pot during Barack Obama's presidency) or whoever replaces Sessions permanently to help with that forward movement. "We really need Congress to take action and enact policy that protects state marijuana laws and permanently eases that tension," he says.
According to Terrapin Care Station communications director (and former Colorado Politics reporter) Peter Marcus, the industry didn't change its operations much after Sessions revoked the Cole memo, and Michigan and Vermont weren't discouraged from legalizing marijuana, either. In fact, he adds, Sessions's departure could help federal legalization efforts and the industry from an investment standpoint.
"In terms of a 30,000-foot view, when you're talking about an expanding and growing cannabis industry, investment is an essential factor. Just knowing Jeff Sessions is out as the Attorney General, I think this eases some anxieties that may have existed surrounding the industry, which will allow for business to be conducted with less stress," Marcus says.
Marcus seems to be on to something, as cannabis companies listed on the Canadian Stock Exchange saw double-digit jumps in stock prices the same day Sessions got the boot.
Companies looking for funding aren't the only marijuana entities that could benefit from a new AG, Marcus adds: "I think marijuana was a fundamental disagreement between Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump. Obviously, it wasn't the only issue, but I do think it was a factor. I think there will be a rush for legalization to take place even before the 2020 elections, but I don't think Sessions fit into the president's plan for marijuana in America."
Marcus's prediction follows that of short-lived White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who said that Trump would move to legalize marijuana after the November midterm elections. They ended the day before Trump ousted Sessions.
And what will Jeffy do if the nation embraces the devil's lettuce? The Onion has a pretty funny take.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.