Photo credit: Matthew T. Nichols for the Department of Justice
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to resign today, capping the already big news from yesterday’s midterm elections in which Michigan voted to legalize cannabis for recreational use and Utah and Missouri legalized medical marijuana. President Trump quickly appointed Jeff Sessions’ successor, a loyalist named Matthew Whitaker, who has gone on record that the Mueller Investigation goes too far, but I digress.
What does this mean for cannabis? To start with, some cannabis-related companies enjoyed skyrocketing stock as a result of the news, though that was likely also attributable to the midterm elections as well.
It’s hard to draw direct conclusions with such a chaotic administration, but it’s fair to say this is good news for the industry. Few politicians disliked cannabis as much as Jeff Sessions, who rescinded the Cole Memorandum that was issued by the Obama Administration and was partially responsible for the flourishing of state laws voting to legalize cannabis. Sessions also said at a Senate hearing, “we need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger.” He also spoke of the need to “send that message with clarity that good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
What will AG Whitaker do with cannabis? We don’t know. We have previously written about Trump’s inconsistent views on cannabis reform, which provides the cannabis advocates and industry members with no level of comfort. But inconsistency is certainly better than former AG Jeff Sessions’ views. With Sessions out, there’s good reason to think the cannabis industry’s growth will accelerate, particularly in light of other important developments this week.
Pete Sessions Is Also Out
It is also worth noting national news for the other Sessions, (former) Representative Pete Sessions (no relation to Jeff) who lost his reelection bid to Democrat Colin Allred. Pete Sessions used his powerful position as Chair of the House Rules Committee to block dozens of cannabis reform bills and amendments. Representative-elect Allred says of marijuana,
“I support the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to the habit-forming opioids that have become a national crisis. This common-sense approach to alternative treatments has been opposed by Pete Sessions, and is something I will fight to expand.”
With Pete Sessions gone and a Democrat-controlled House, we can expect there to be further movement towards national reform. Without support in the Senate or in the White House though (and don’t expect that before 2020), don’t expect huge movement like national legalization anytime soon. That said, there may still be movement on issues like CBD and hemp (see our recent post), which is currently stalled but not dead.
State Legalization Developments
Michigan voted to legalize cannabis for recreational use with 55% voting in favor, becoming the tenth state after Washington, Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, California, Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Governor-elect Whitmer has also opined on expunging low-level cannabis crimes, and issue important to our firm. Over 110,000 Michiganders have been arrested and charged with cannabis misdemeanors in just the last five years, with nearly 50,000 convictions. Governor-elect Whitmer said on the issue, ”
“For conduct that now would be considered legal, no one should bear a lifetime record….We will start taking a look at that and taking some actions early next year.”
Utah voted to legalize medical marijuana with 53% in favor, despite opposition from the Mormon church. What’s notable about Utah is that the medical marijuana proposition apparently energized a significant amount of people to vote. According to a survey done by the Salt Lake Tribune, 30% of respondents were most likely to be motivated to vote based on a statewide proposition, and 69% of that subset was motivated by Proposition 2, the medical marijuana initiative.
Missouri also voted to legalize medical marijuana with over 65% of the vote, while North Dakota’s medical marijuana initiative failed with with a margin of 41% in favor to 59% opposed. 31 states now have medical marijuana laws in place.
All in all, it has been a huge day for cannabis-related news. We here at Cultiva Law congratulate Michigan, Utah, and Missouri citizens with their eye towards progress.