Pubdate: Sun, 16 Jul 2017
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2017 Globe Newspaper Company


Attorney General Jeff Sessions has compared cannabis to heroin.

NEW YORK - In a national vote widely viewed as a victory for
conservatives, last year's elections also yielded a win for liberals
in eight states that legalized marijuana for medical or recreational

But the growing industry is facing a federal crackdown under Attorney
General Jeff Sessions, who has compared cannabis to heroin.

A task force Sessions appointed to, in part, review links between
violent crimes and marijuana is scheduled to release its findings by
the end of the month. But he has already asked Senate leaders to roll
back rules that block the Justice Department from bypassing state laws
to enforce a federal ban on medical marijuana.

That has pitted the attorney general against members of Congress
across the political spectrum - from Senator Rand Paul, Republican of
Kentucky, to Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, - who are
determined to defend states' rights and provide some certainty for the
multibillion-dollar pot industry.

"Our attorney general is giving everyone whiplash by trying to take us
back to the 1960s," said Representative Jared Huffman, Democrat of
California, whose district includes the so-called Emerald Triangle
that produces much of the United States' marijuana.

"Prosecutorial discretion is everything given the current conflict
between the federal law and the law of many states," he said in an
interview last month.

In February, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said the
Trump administration would look into enforcing federal law against
recreational marijuana businesses. Some states are considering tougher
stands: In Massachusetts, for example, the Legislature is trying to
rewrite a law to legalize recreational marijuana that voters passed in

About one-fifth of Americans now live in states where marijuana is
legal for adult use, according to the Brookings Institution, and an
estimated 200 million live in places where medicinal marijuana is legal.

Cannabis retailing has moved from street corners to state-of-the-art
dispensaries and stores, with California entrepreneurs producing rose
gold vaporizers and businesses in Colorado selling infused drinks.

Sessions is backed by a minority of Americans who view cannabis as a
"gateway" drug that drives social problems, such as the recent rise in
opioid addiction.

"We love Jeff Sessions's position on marijuana because he is thinking
about it clearly," said Scott Chipman, Southern California chairman
for Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana.

He dismissed the idea of recreational drug use. "'Recreational' is a
bike ride, a swim, going to the beach," he said. "Using a drug to put
your brain in an altered state is not recreation. That is
self-destructive behavior and escapism."

Marijuana merchants are protected by a provision in the federal budget
that prohibits the Justice Department from spending money to block
state laws that allow medicinal cannabis. Under the Obama
administration, the Justice Department did not interfere with state
laws that legalize marijuana and instead focused on prosecuting drug
cartels and the transport of pot across state lines.

In March, a group of senators that included Elizabeth Warren, Democrat
of Massachusetts, and Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, asked
Sessions to stick with existing policies. Some lawmakers also want to
allow banks to work with the marijuana industry and to allow tax
deductions for business expenses.

Lawmakers who support legalizing marijuana contend that it leads to
greater regulation, curbs the black market and stops money laundering.
They point to studies showing that the war on drugs, which began under
President Richard M. Nixon, had disastrous impacts on national
incarceration rates and racial divides.

In a statement, Booker said the Trump administration's crackdown
against marijuana "will not make our communities safer or reduce the
use of illegal drugs."

"Instead, they will worsen an already broken system," he said, noting
that marijuana-related arrests are disproportionately high for black

Consumers spent $5.9 billion on legal cannabis in the United States
last year, according to the Arcview Group, which studies and invests
in the industry. That figure is expected to reach $19 billion by 2021.

A Quinnipiac University poll in February concluded that 59 percent of
US voters believe cannabis should be legal. Additionally, the poll
found, 71 percent say the federal government should not prosecute
marijuana use in states that have legalized it.

But marijuana businesses are bracing for a possible clampdown.

"People that were sort of on the fence - a family office, a
high-net-worth individual thinking of privately financing a licensed
opportunity - it has swayed them to go the other way and think: not
just yet," said Randy Maslow, a founder of iAnthus Capital Holdings.
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MAP posted-by: Matt