The Perfect Storm That Could Cripple the Marijuana Industry Under Trump

By Will Yakowicz for Inc.

The marijuana industry is waiting to see how President Donald Trump and his administration will treat the state-regulated marijuana industry. Many entrepreneurs believe he will support states' rights, but a long-time medical marijuana lobbyist says she is "frightened" for the industry's future.

Steph Sherer, founder and executive director of Americans for Safe Access, a nonprofit that lobbies to support medical marijuana patients, told Marijuana Business Daily that she is not optimistic about the future of the marijuana industry.

The strategy that could be enacted to hamstring the industry, Sherer said, starts with Senator Jeff Sessions, an anti-marijuana Republican from Alabama who was nominated by Trump to become U.S. Attorney General. During his confirmation hearing last week, the yet-to-be confirmed Sessions told Congress he would enforce the 2013 Cole Memo. The memo is an outline of how the U.S. Department of Justice allows marijuana businesses to operate--so long they don't run afoul of federal priorities (i.e., selling to minors, money laundering, acting as fronts for drug cartels).

Sessions made a point to explain that Congress has the power to change marijuana's legal status, but so long as the drug is illegal Sessions said he would have to make sure federal priorities are being enforced.

The worst-case scenario, Sherer said, would be a "perfect storm" of three different forces. The first, she explains, would be if Congress decides not to pass the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment this April. The amendment prevents the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with states setting up their own marijuana markets. If that happens, state-regulated markets would lose the protection the amendment has provided. The second force would be if the DOJ issues a report finding a handful of violations against the Cole Memo. Sherer says the affect of a DOJ report would likely "sour" Congress' view towards the marijuana industry. The third event would be if the Food and Drug Administration tests marijuana products sold in dispensaries, and finds some contaminated with illegal pesticides, for instance, or misleading labels and false claims.

If this happens, Sherer says the Drug Enforcement Administration will target dispensaries with a "44-cent strategy." In other words, the DEA will send cease-and-desist letters to dispensaries, and for "everyone left standing, they'll create strategies for each of them," she said.

Of course, there are many possibilities. The Trump administration might not even go after the industry because it is a political loser, considering that more people voted for marijuana reform in some states than for Trump himself. But if entrepreneurs want to make sure their interests are protected, Sherer has one piece of advice: "Tell your elected officials it's finally time to end the federal conflict," she said, adding that entrepreneurs need to lobby their Senators and Representatives to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.