“I thought those guys [the Ku Klux Klan] were OK until I learned they smoked pot.” Meet Jeff Sessions, the Trump Administration’s Attorney General. He later said he was kidding, but the basics of his message are true: he sympathizes with white supremacists and is extremely anti-marijuana. He recently made a decision to withdraw the Cole Memo, a famous Obama-era policy which gave states the space to legalize marijuana without fear of federal interference. This announcement has had economic, social and political impacts in Oregon and across the country.
When Sessions announced the withdrawal, a fund of marijuana-based stocks dropped more than nine percent and even affected the stock price of the company that makes Miracle-Gro, which dropped five percent. North American marijuana sales in 2016 totaled 6.7 billion dollars; it’s set to reach $20.2 billion by 2021. For fiscal years 2016 and 2017, Oregon brought in a combined total of over $90 million in marijuana tax revenue; 60 percent of that revenue goes toward mental health and alcoholism support services, cities, counties and law enforcement — the other 40 percent of revenue goes toward education. If Sessions begins to crack down on states in which marijuana is legal, Oregon will lose some of its current education funding, an important expenditure considering Oregon is ranked 38 in the nation for education.
Medical marijuana is now an important part of the healthcare industry. Although Sessions has not explicitly stated that he will target medical marijuana businesses, his intense anti-cannabis stance suggests that such an attack is not out of the question. In 2016, there were over a million people who used medical marijuana. The American Legion, the largest wartime veterans service organization, has been a leading advocate for the removal of cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. By rescinding this memo, Sessions has taken on a large coalition of medical marijuana users: veterans, senior citizens, cancer survivors and parents of children with epilepsy, to name a few.
There are also considerable political impacts that come along with rescinding this memo. Not just from Democrats, but also Republicans. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado said that he would be putting a hold on every single nomination from the DOJ until Sessions held up his promise of honoring states’ rights. Jeanne Shaheen, the lead Democrat on the DOJ funding subcommittee, tweeted that she would “work to ensure that resources are devoted to opioid response NOT foolish policy of interfering with legal marijuana production.”
Cannabis has lost a lot of the stigma that it used to carry: nearly 70 percent of Americans believe in some form of legalized marijuana. Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont wants to include an amendment in the 2018 omnibus appropriations bill that would maintain protections for medical marijuana. Attorney General Sessions has created a lot of adversaries on both sides of the aisle by withdrawing this memo.
Sessions made this decision to please a relatively small amount of Americans who still believe marijuana should not be used in any capacity, and the full economic, social and political fallout has yet to be determined. All that is known for sure is that the withdrawal of this memo has serious consequences for both the country and Oregon.