Will Congress Legalize Marijuana?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ hatred of the marijuana plant is well documented. That’s why, when he overturned the Cole memo, most people in the pot industry were expecting it. But now Congress is fairly upset by Sessions’ actions; Politico stated, “Business leaders in an industry that was worth $7.9 billion in 2017, called Session’s action outrageous and economically stupid.”

Congress Up in Arms About Sessions’ Attack on Legal Weed

The Cole memo was an Obama-era document that gave a nod to states rights. The big pot dilemma during his administration was that states were rapidly legalizing marijuana while the federal government had not. The Cole memo laid out a strategy that told prosecutors to show restraint in prosecuting federal pot laws in states where the plant was now legal. Sessions threw out that memo, potentially teeing up a showdown that could make it to the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Congress showed their displeasure with Sessions actions. The Politico article suggested even Republican Senators threatened to retaliate by blocking Sessions in the halls of Congress. Democrats threatened to cut Sessions budget and a prominent Republican from Colorado is threatening to stall nominations to the Justice Department. The displeasure extended beyond the Congressional Cannabis Caucus that includes legislators from one-half of the states that have currently approved marijuana for recreational or medicinal consumption.

While Congress is fighting back, the latest Gallup poll shows the majority of Republicans support marijuana legalization. Nationally 64% of Americans say the plant should be legal.

Currently, the number of patients in our country who rely on medical marijuana stands at 2.6 million. Enforcing federal law would completely change the face of the healthcare industry, removing pain medication currently used by some of the sickest people in our country. The political fallout from taking meds away from cancer patients, epileptic children, and senior citizens could be extremely difficult for an administration already facing approval ratings that are the worst in history.

The Future of Legal Marijuana

In February, the news broke that a U.S. District Court in New York is hearing a suit from a series of plaintiffs suing the Drug Enforcement Administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The lawsuit claims that the federal decision to list cannabis as a controlled substance is motivated not by science but by politics.

Thirty states have now legalized some form of marijuana usage and a growing number are legalizing not just for medical use but for recreational use by adults as well. But Sessions’ threatened crackdown could affect both the eight states that have legalized recreational pot and medicinal usage as well. While Congress could simply balance the discrepancies in the laws by passing federal legislation, given the current seats at the table in Congress, this seems unlikely. A Boston.com article suggests that it’s possible Session’s might target one or two dispensaries or other companies within the growing marijuana industry to make a point. In the meantime, state lawmakers know that the marijuana industry continues to supply big tax income for cash-strapped states.  

At this point we know one thing is clear; federal and state laws are about to crash. The blowback and fallout from these conflicts are yet to be determined.