With the former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ seat being occupied by Matthew G. Whitaker, the cannabis industry is among the many groups waiting for clear signals as to who will be nominated as the permanent replacement.
The Attorney General is responsible for the enforcement of the laws. In the case of cannabis, the AG can either mobilize or pacify the DEA to enforce cannabis as the Schedule I substance the Controlled Substances Act identifies cannabis as.
Despite Jeff Sessions having been one of cannabis’ most staunch opponents, there were two Obama era issuances of guidance that protected states from federal interference: The Cole Memo and The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment.
Attorney General James Cole, a former Deputy Attorney General, wrote the Cole Memo. It establishes guidelines for states to follow to be granted autonomy to regulate from the federal government.
While the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment bars the Department of Justice from spending money to prosecute cannabis businesses operating in states that have access regulations in place. The legislation is attached to the federal spending bill that gets renewed regularly.
Let’s take a minute to remember…
The unexpected departure marks the end of an era, where the AG opened the year by rescinding the Cole Memo on January 4, 2018. That move was largely seen as the first salvo in his career long campaign to strengthen prohibition.
However, even Sessions was influenced by the sentiment that is more sympathetic to medical cannabis, who stated “there may well be some benefits from medical marijuana” while speaking to the Senate Appropriations Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee in April.
He later continued to lag on supporting any of the 25 applications who applied for a to research on that very subject citing a language conflict with the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Drugs.
Sessions never took the aggressive action that some people were concerned that he might take, but he refused to use his seat to advocate for a cause he vehemently opposed.
The Potential Replacements
A possible candidate is the man filling the seat on a provisional basis. Whitaker has signaled that he could be sympathetic the Iowa legalizing cannabidiol for medical use, but disagreed with a hands off approach to states access programs.
The current Deputy Attorney may get the nod for the position. Though he was part of the office that rescinded the Cole Memo, we he was asked about it, his response did not suggest the reason for the change in policy was to go after Cannabis businesses. Rather, it was a conservative appeal to work through proper channels to change law, rather than have agencies make policy changes based on personal beliefs.
If we are to understand President Trump as a president who will likely be choosing a candidate from the GOP ranks, then we must acknowledge Pam Bondi as the most likely ally to the cannabis industry.
The former Florida Attorney General has the most extensive record of the top candidates in regards to cannabis access legislation and it is encouraging. Having served from 2011 until the end of 2018, she approved a low-THC medical cannabis law and medical cannabis legislation. Bondi has not been an advocate, and executed the responsibilities of her office in a fashion that maintains a slow transition to legalized cannabis.
The Likely Candidate
President Trump has a way of creating surprises for all involved. However, it’s likely that the AG will not be more obstructionist than Jeff Sessions. For Jeff Sessions’ record in regards cannabis access legislation: he proved to be more of one who threatened and delayed.
The main question is, will the next AG campaign actively to interfere with state access laws by pushing to rescind the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment? I do not believe it is likely.