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Jeff Sessions' War on Marijuana Is a Bit of a Yawner and Could Backfire On Him

The Attorney General's aggressive posture toward the $10B cannabis industry has little support, including from his fellow Republicans.

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions finally stopped making threats about legalized marijuana and actually took some action this month.

Matt McClain | Getty Images

Hysteria and anxiety over his decision didn’t exactly materialize. Other than a drop in marijuana stocks due to skittish investors, the marijuana world kept turning and cannabis kept selling. That includes California, where legal recreational marijuana went on sale just days before Sessions’ announcement to rescind the Cole Memo issued during the Obama Administration broadly instituting a hands-off federal enforcement policy toward cannabis businesses operating legally under state law.

In reacting to Sessions’ announcement, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval -- a Republican -- essentially said “thanks for your input, we’ll read that over.” Colorado officials made a stoner joke. California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom called Sessions’ decision an “ideological temper tantrum.”

But while Sessions has ideological opponents, his biggest opponent is this: $10 billion. That’s an estimate from Arcview Media of legal marijuana sales once all the numbers are in for 2017.

Related: You Can Legally Buy Marijuana in California But Selling It Legally Is Tricky

Not a surprise.

It’s important to note that Sessions himself isn’t ordering a federal crackdown. He just gave local U.S. attorneys the right to do so if they found it was warranted.

Sessions decision to rescind the protections granted the marijuana industry by the Cole Memo hardly came as a surprise. He set the stage in 2017 by sending letters to officials in Colorado, Oregon and Washington questioning their adherence to the memo.

So how could this all turn out? There are two possibilities that, ironically, seem more likely than ever after Sessions’ decision.

Related: Why Jeff Sessions' New War on Marijuana Hasn't Frightened Investors or Cannabis Entrepreneurs

Sessions gets fired.

Some of the biggest critics of Sessions’ decision are Republicans in Congress, which is not a good look for Sessions. He already faces the possibility of perjury charges by Senate Democrats who believe he lied in testimony before a Senate committee.

Sessions also has had a rocky relationship with President Donald Trump. And he may have angered businesses and voters in Colorado, a state that was considered up for grabs in the 2016 election. That’s not good for his boss.

Certainly, he’s angered Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican. In a speech on the Senate floor, he said Sessions had not lived up to a commitment he made to Gardner before the attorney general’s confirmation hearing to honor states’ rights when it came to Colorado. Gardner said he’s holding up all appointments in the Department of Justice until Sessions explains himself.

Speaking of states’ rights, Sessions has made it tricky for Republicans who typically support states’ rights. A crackdown on marijuana would completely undermine that stance. 

It’s interesting that Politico could not find one member of Congress in either party who supported Sessions’ decision. Sessions seems to have angered many powerful people in many powerful positions. Whether that extends to Trump remains unclear.

The laws might be changed.

Much like Trump’s victory seemed to rally the left, Sessions’ announcement has spurred talk that California and other states may work harder on getting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on whether the federal government even has the authority to regulate marijuana in states that have made it legal.

Or, there’s the possibility that the U.S. Congress will follow Canada’s lead and make marijuana legal nationwide. As pointed out by Politico, this now seems a more likely scenario. Businesses nationwide have put millions in the marijuana industry. Sessions has created uncertainty. Many entrepreneurs are asking Congress for protection.

With the majority of Americans backing legalization and that $10 billion figure, they just might get it.

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