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Trump Basically Says Obama-Era Marijuana Policies Aren't Going to Change

A conservative Republican senator from Colorado has wrung a big concession from the administration to protect his state's booming cannabis business.

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It’s been an April to remember for the legal marijuana industry in the United States.

Mandel Ngan | Getty Images

First came the news that former marijuana opponent John Boehner, the former Speaker of the House, had joined the board of Acreage Holdings, one of the largest cannabis companies in the United States.

Now President Donald Trump has reportedly assured U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado that he will support protection of states that have legalized marijuana from federal interference.

But Trump apparently went beyond even that. In January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind the Cole Memo -- an Obama-era Justice Department memo that essentially protected states that have legalized marijuana from federal interference -- caused concern in the cannabis industry that a crackdown could happen.

According to Gardner, Trump told him that will not be the case. He then went one step beyond that, saying he plans to support changes at the federal level that will strengthen state’s rights.

Related: Where to Find Funding for a Cannabis Business

All this is based on a statement Gardner released on his website, in which he said, “I received a commitment from the president that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry. Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all.”

The White House later confirmed the accuracy of Gardner’s statement.

Art of the Marijuana Deal

Apparently, all of this -- which seemed unlikely just months ago -- happened because of Sessions’ decision to rescind the memo.

In reaction to Sessions’ action, Gardner has since held up 20 of the Trump Administration’s nominations to the Department of Justice. Gardner said he would stop blocking nominees “based on these commitments” he received from Trump that Colorado’s marijuana industry is not in jeopardy.

While not straightforward, it’s one of the first signs from the Trump Administration that it won’t crack down on legal marijuana states.

Sessions position is well known. Up until this month, Trump had remained largely silent on the marijuana. Marc Short, the legislative affairs director for the White House, told the Washington Post the administration was “reluctant to reward” Gardner’s maneuvering.

“But at the same time, we're anxious to get our team at the Department of Justice," Short said. He also went on to say that Trump “does respect Colorado's right to decide for themselves how to best approach this issue."

That last part is likely what marijuana industry entrepreneurs will most pay attention to.

Related: Marijuana Edibles Make the List of Top 10 Food Trends This Year

Challenges Ahead

Trump’s assurances to Gardner, coupled with the Boehner decision, has created yet another buzz in many places about marijuana moving into the mainstream and the challenges it still faces.

One good example is from NPR. While making the point that Boehner certainly did well politically in opposing marijuana, the article also notes that his decision to join the Acreage Holdings board signals a shift.

His decision “comes in time to help people who see cannabis as a promising business opportunity,” the article states. However, it also points out that minorities continue to get arrested for marijuana in disproportionate numbers and could get shut out of the legal marijuana industry.

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