Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general famously said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. OPB and its partners spoke with people across the region to see how they’re preparing for the transition of power.
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People in the marijuana business in Washington and Oregon are wondering how Sessions will act on those words if his nomination is confirmed.
So far legal marijuana has generated more than $400 million in excise taxes in Washington State and more than $55 million in Oregon.
Susan Gress grows marijuana in a barn on Vashon Island, under the label Vashon Velvet. She says business is great. One of her most popular strains is aimed at women. It’s touted for making them feel happy, giggly and … romantic.
“In fact, I’m giving a talk at the senior center next week about that,” Gress said.
But she hasn’t had too much time to contemplate the future of her industry.
“Of course when Jeff Sessions was named the new attorney general, the pot world fainted. Everyone’s been a little bit worried about what would happen,” she said.
Still, Gress and her fellow business owners don’t seem too worried about a federal crackdown. Partly because voters seem to be moving in the opposite direction. Eight more states, including California, legalized marijuana in some form in November.
Democratic Congressman Denny Heck from Olympia sees that support in the halls of Congress.
“We’ve always had bipartisan support since I’ve been in Congress — a short four years — for increased access to banking services and other marijuana legalization measures … I might add, from Republicans and especially from the Libertarians,” he said.
But Heck says without a change in federal law, it will be easy for federal officials to cut off access to banking for the industry.
He says having those businesses revert to all-cash raises concerns for tax evasion and robberies.
“It’s dangerous from the standpoint of not being able to monitor that for tax purposes and other illicit purposes. But it’s also dangerous for the young men and women who work – especially in the retail establishments.”
The Justice Department could also take action if state plans violate federal guidelines.
One possible scenario where federal authorities could intervene relates to drugged driving and other health consequences from marijuana. Last year drivers who were drug-impaired or distracted fueled an increase in traffic deaths in Washington and Oregon.
Dr. Suzan Mazor, a medical toxicologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, has seen another impact: young children brought to the emergency room after eating marijuana-infused foods.
“So she underwent a CT scan of the head, as well as a bunch of blood tests, a consult with neurology and ended up spending the night in the intensive care unit before we found out that the marijuana test was indeed positive,” Mazor said.
Mazor says these case numbers are small, and ingesting marijuana is less dangerous for children than many other drugs. But she says these foods and candies are tempting for kids, and adults need to keep them locked up.
So far in his confirmation hearings, Sessions didn’t indicate that he’d take immediate enforcement actions. But his nomination has created a lot of uncertainty.
Seattle attorney Robert McVay says some of his clients are selling their marijuana business licenses or delaying their issuance. But some smaller businesses actually see a bright side to this tension.
“As soon as this is completely legal you will have big business stepping in and playing its role. But so long as we have this risky structure where it’s illegal federally but legal at the state level, big business isn’t going to touch it. And it leaves room for these smaller investors and smaller players to make their mark.”
Like the client he just saw. That investor said having Sessions as attorney general insures that bigger competitors will keep their distance from legal marijuana … for now.