The Future of Legal Marijuana
These are interesting times politically. The current presidential administration is, to put it mildly, a unique beast. Trump gets the most attention, but he’s joined by a colorful cast of supporting characters. One of the most colorful is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who formerly served as a senator from Alabama. Sessions often seems like he was born in the wrong era, like he would be much more comfortable existing in 1918 rather than 2018. One big reason for that? He’s a big proponent of the drug war, despite compelling evidence that it’s unfairly targeted minority populations and really hasn’t done a whole lot to drive down drug usage. But Sessions won’t be deterred, and to that end, he recently announced he was repealing the Cole memo, which offered certain protections to states that had legalized marijuana. This angered Democrats and Republicans alike, especially in states like Colorado and Washington where legal weed sales pump a lot of money into the economy.
Federal law and marijuana
Here’s one reason why Sessions had the right to repeal the Cole memo: marijuana is still illegal as far as the federal government is concerned. That was true even under President Obama. If we really want the future of legal marijuana to be secure, it needs to be legalized by Congress. The Sessions announcement may have made that more likely, as several members of Congress have called legalizing marijuana a priority now. It’s still far from certain, though, and until it happens, pot-friendly states will continue to exist in a legal gray area. Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, the same classification bestowed on drugs like heroin and LSD.
Marijuana shops are also angry because they had to jump through a lot of hoops in order to open their business. This isn’t some fly-by-night operation; places selling medical marijuana must obtain a medical marijuana dispensary license from their state, and there’s a similar structure in place for states that allow recreational marijuana shops. States made selling legal pot difficult in part because they wanted to keep the feds off their back, and now all that work might have been for naught.
The Cole memo basically said that federal prosecutors shouldn’t go after the marijuana business in states that decided to make it legal. So now Sessions is telling prosecutors they’re free to go after pot shops if they want. That doesn’t mean they have to, though. There’s something called prosecutorial discretion that allows them to decide which crimes should be prioritized and which should be mostly ignored. So that means some prosecutors might start really cracking down on pot shops, while others might not. It’s hard to say at this point, and so the reaction from medical and recreational pot sellers has ranged from outright panic to cautious optimism. About two thirds of Americans think pot should be legal in some form, so there’s not a huge public outcry that demands action here.
If you live in a state where it’s legal, you may be wondering if you should keep buying it from shops. Pot shops in places like Portland, Oregon, probably seem like safer bets than, say, a pot shop in small-town Colorado. In other words, blue cities will be perceived as less likely to crack down on legal weed. There’s nothing wrong with taking a wait-and-see approach, although pot shop proprietors are generally considered more vulnerable to arrest than pot shop customers. Next time you visit a marijuana shop, talk to the employees about the Sessions decision. They’re on the front lines of this conflict, and they’ll probably have plenty to say.