View original publication on BizJournals.com.
The budding cannabis industry may find reason for optimism despite President Donald Trump’s selection of a staunch anti-marijuana attorney general in Jeff Sessions.
At least, that’s the take of John Vardaman, a former assistant deputy chief at the Department of Justice and D.C.-based general counsel of Hypur Inc., a consulting company that helps banks work with cash-heavy businesses.
“Jeff Sessions could end up being the best thing that ever happened to this industry,” Vardaman told the audience at the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo held at the Gaylord National Harbor. The event, hosted by Marijuana Business Daily, brought hundreds of cannabis companies to the convention center this week.
“I know that might sound strange. But if you think about how low the expectations are and how high the concerns are, we could potentially be looking at a ‘Nixon goes to China’ moment. It’s a sort of a ‘Sessions goes to Mendocino’ moment,” Vardaman said.
His point: If the cannabis industry can survive this Justice Department or if the feds actually wind up affirming or updating previous guidance for the industry, it will have proved it is established enough to survive anything.
Vardaman gave voice to a growing strain of optimism in the otherwise jumpy industry that now faces attorney general who has been a vocal opponent of legalized marijuana. The Trump administration has created alarm at times, such as when it objected to a line in the Congressional spending bill which would have barred the administration from cracking down on the medical marijuana industry, the Washington Post reported this week.
“I think it’s telling they haven’t acted or done anything, they haven’t deviated one iota in terms of marijuana enforcement. And we’re more than 100 days in,” Vardaman told a crowd in a session about lessons for the industry from Trump’s first 100 days.
He referenced White House spokesman Sean Spicer’s comments earlier this year when he said Trump saw a big difference between the enforcement of recreational marijuana and medical marijuana. He also referred to what is called the Cole memo, a 2013 order by then-deputy attorney general James Cole to U.S. attorneys not to prosecute marijuana businesses or seize assets as long at those companies complied with state law.
“Any time you hear Jeff Sessions use the term limited federal resources, that is a nod to the underlying rationale of the Cole memo and that is extremely welcome news. It is a practical matter,” Vardaman said. “I think there’s a recognition between some of the things this administration wants to do and what’s possible.”