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What the national elections mean to the cannabis industry

By: John Davis, CEO of Northwest Patient Resource Center

The November election results are in and the Democrats experienced what Obama has called a “Shellacking.”  This has led to much discussion in the industry.  What does this mean for those of us who run businesses that directly touch cannabis as well as the ancillary businesses that rely on us as customers?  What does this mean for 2016? Could a change in the presidential administration spell death for our fledgling industry?

What is a Republican wins the presidency? It is important to remember that our industry in non-partisan.  We have worked for many years to gain friends on both sides of the aisle, with much success.  We have support from prominent Republican figures such as Grover Nordquist and Dana Rohabacher. Do not make the assumption that Republicans are out to get us.

Remember, also during said shellacking, voters approved recreational adult use of cannabis in Alaska, Oregon and in the nation’s capital.  Additionally, Guam became the first U.S. territory to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis.  Alaskans voted solidly Republican, but these same voters legalized marijuana.  Unfortunately Florida’s medical marijuana amendment did not pass but 57.6% of the voters are in favor of cannabis.  Again, those are the very same voters who voted predominantly Republican in partisan races.

In 2016 Florida will be very much in play in the presidential race.  With its 29 electoral votes it cannot be ignored.   A Republican candidate will have to think very long and hard about this year’s vote in Florida before including any anti-cannabis stance in their platform.  The Democratic opponent could easily take a state’s rights, anti-big government stance and make the Republican candidate look weak in their core philosophy.

Additionally, nationwide polls continue to show that a majority of Americans believe that the regulated, adult use of cannabis should be legal.  The only demographic that believes cannabis should remain illegal are those over the age of 65.  While this is certainly a “likely to vote” demographic, it seems clear that ultimately, if trends continue, legalization is an inevitability.  Plus, as Californians voted to reduce penalties for possession of all drugs to a misdemeanor, polling increasingly suggests that Americans, regardless of political affiliation, are becoming fed up with mass incarceration.  Plus, Newt Gingrich was a vocal supporter of the California initiative.

I believe that the Democrats would love to see the Republican presidential candidate in 2016 take a hard line on cannabis but the I think the Republicans are too savvy to fall into that trap.  Currently, by adding the electoral votes of all states with medical and adult use state laws the total is 247 with 270 needed to elect a president.  If Florida is added it would be 276.  Have I mentioned that the 57.6% of Floridians voted to approve medical marijuana?

Even if a Republican does not run on an anti-cannabis ticket they can still take it up as an issue after a presidential win but how high is the likelihood?  In order for the president to be effective in fighting the cannabis industry he would have to create a policy that directs the justice department to go after businesses.  The Attorney General would direct the DEA and U.S. Attorneys to go after state legal cannabis businesses.  This would, in essence, become an all-out war between the federal government and the states.  I predict that in 2017 at least 25 of the states will have a medical marijuana law and that at least 6 states will have legal adult use.  The Attorney Generals’ of the States would be forced to fight the administration in court.  It would be distracting to a new administration to say the least.

The DEA has, roughly, 5000 special agents.  If they directed all of them to combat state legal cannabis there would be about 200 per state yet the localities would not cooperate.  Would this force of 200 startby arresting the state officials that are clearly involved in the federal criminal conspiracy?

There is also the issue that even if the U.S. Attorneys are directed to take action, they are under no obligation to do so.  Although the nomination for U.S. Attorney is submitted by the president, it is traditionally chosen by the local district stakeholders.  Presidents firing U.S. Attorney’s can have disruptive political ramifications.  Also, the U.S. Attorney offices have finite budgets.  Congress, whether Republican, Democrat or mixed, is highly unlikely to increase budgets to fund a war on the states.  This would take numerous resources off of other, more serious, crimes.

In short, I don’t believe that this genie can be put back into the bottle.  What would a republican congress do? Pass a law declaring cannabis illegal? That would be so 1970.

We, in the industry, need to ensure that we act honorably and in good faith to create a system that is better than prohibition.  We need to be serious about restricting access to minors and not targeting them with advertising.  We need to be serious about inventory controls to prevent diversion.  We need to be serious about consumer protections.  When we show reduced youth usage, reduced traffic deaths and no sizeable increase in overall use then we will have the wind at our backs coming into 2016.

For the past 20 years, Mr. Davis has fought in the trenches and with his wallet and business interests (not to mention sticking his neck out nationally!) to work diligently to end prohibition in his home state, Washington and  on a national level. In addition to being the Chairman of Seattle Hempfest, John is the founder of the Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics, a board and founding member of the NCIA and a leading policy expert working on international cannabis policy reform. 



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