Marijuana sellers face uncertainty under Trump

The Trump administration is creating uncertainty for the nascent marijuana industry.

It’s unclear just how strictly Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to enforce the federal prohibition on
marijuana, raising questions for the dozens of states that have legalized the drug in some capacity.
“There is no telling how the Trump administration will handle the legalities of cannabis,” said Ethan Andersen, spokesman for NisonCo, a public relations firm that works with cannabis companies. “While there’s no guarantee they will crack down, there’s certainly no guarantee they won’t.”
The federal government still considers marijuana an illegal substance, but 28 states have defied the ban by legalizing medical marijuana within their borders. Eight of those states now allow adults to use pot recreationally, creating an increase in dispensaries.

Sessions has made clear that he is not a fan of legalized marijuana. During a hearing last April, when he was still a Republican senator from Alabama, he declared: “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

And since becoming attorney general, Sessions has said that legal marijuana is fueling a rise in violent crime.

“There is more violence around marijuana than one would think,’’ Sessions said.

The movement to legalize marijuana has made big gains around the country in recent years, at a time when the Obama administration mostly took a hands-off approach.

In 2016, state ballot initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana passed in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — all states that President Trump lost to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“Marijuana is more popular than the president,” joked Bill Piper, senior director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance.

“The toothpaste is already out of the tube, and it will be really hard for the Trump administration to stop legalization,” Piper said. “They can arrest people, but for every dispensary they shut down, another 10 will open up.

“They can’t possibly win that fight over the long term.”

On the campaign trail, Trump voiced support for medical marijuana, though not for legalizing the drug for general use.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer last month told reporters there could be “greater enforcement” against dispensaries and growers that sell recreational marijuana.

“I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement,” Spicer said during a press briefing in late February. “There’s a big difference between the medical use … [and] recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into.”

That remark could spell trouble for recreational marijuana businesses.

“The Trump administration made it clear they don’t look on it as favorably as President Obama did, and even he didn’t look on it that favorably,” Andersen said.

But Sessions has sought to ease some of those concerns in private meetings with Republican senators, according to reports, which have only added to the confusion surrounding Trump’s pot policy.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, and we’re not sure when it will be resolved,” said Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

“There’s no question we are in a less stable environment with Trump than we might have expected in a Clinton administration,” West said.

Some pot companies are taking steps to protect themselves.

Marijuana growers and dispensaries that “touch the plant” have the most to be concerned about, industry officials say.

To insulate themselves from a potential government crackdown, a number of other companies provide services to the marijuana industry but do not get directly involved in growing or selling the drug.

“There’s no reason why they would ever come after us,” said Greg Lambrecht, CEO of the Phoenix-based SinglePoint, which helps marijuana dispensaries record their sales.

“We provide all of the products these dispensaries need to do business, but we don’t touch the plant,” Lambrecht said. “So if, for some reason, Trump wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, we’re not affected.”

The same is true for CFN Media, which helps marijuana companies promote their brands and drives sales to their websites.

“We don’t touch the plant; we don’t sell the product. We’re just media,” said Frank Lane, CEO of the CFN Media Group.

The worst-case scenario for these companies is that the Trump administration runs the recreational marijuana industry out of business — but even that would have a minimal impact on firms like SinglePoint and CFN Media that do much of their business with medical marijuana companies.

“It’s not a big deal to us, because there are still plenty of medical marijuana companies that need our services,” Lambrecht said.

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