Two years ago, after newly elected President Trump said he was nominating then U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) as Attorney General, a palpable chill was felt throughout the cannabis industry. Prior to the announcement, investors, entrepreneurs and advocates had been jubilant after eight states voted to legalize recreational and medical marijuana; now they were alternately nervous and apprehensive—and rightly so. Sessions was known to be a vehement critic of the space and the attempts to legalize. For many, Trump’s move was seen as contrary to his campaign stance, which supported medical marijuana and the states’ right to legalize.
With Sessions being forced out by Trump a day after the midterm elections, which saw the Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives and Republicans retain the Senate, the legal marijuana community is breathing a collective sigh of relief. Although the industry was no doubt elated to learn that Michigan voted to legalize recreational marijuana while Utah and Missouri voted to legalize medical cannabis, the news of Sessions’ resignation added a special frisson to the joy. Unsurprisingly, it had a buoyant effect on the stock market: Cannabis stocks such as Tilray surged 30 percent.
Perhaps it’s still too early to gauge the repercussions of Sessions’ exit from the Trump Administration on the cannabis industry; yet some leaders and professionals are feeling exultant, hailing it as an important step in the movement toward legalization.
“Sessions’ departure couldn’t have come at a better time for cannabis policy reform,” said Morgan Fox, a spokesperson for the National Cannabis Industry Association, a nonprofit cannabis trade organization. “Even though he was ineffective at starting the crackdown on cannabis businesses that he so clearly wanted, his influence and poisonous drug war rhetoric no doubt slowed progress. It is hard to imagine him being replaced by someone with even more backward views on cannabis, so his exit will likely make the victories in the midterm elections all the more powerful in the context of building momentum to end federal prohibition.”
Troy Dayton, CEO of The Arcview Group, a leading marijuana research and investment firm, echoed Fox’s sentiments, injecting a bit of levity. “Adios Amigos! When Jeff Sessions, the most vociferous opponent to cannabis reform in Congress, became Attorney General there was a lot of fear that he would wreak havoc on the cannabis industry,” said Dayton. “Despite his saber rattling, he hasn’t done much, perhaps because Trump has been supportive of state’s rights. Even though he has been all bark and no bite, it’s great to see someone with his views on cannabis out of such a powerful position. That’s a great sign for our movement and industry.”
Michael Gruber and Jeffrey Howard, managing partners of Salveo Capital, a cannabis investment firm, also joined in the merriment but sounded a cautious note regarding Sessions’ replacement: “The removal of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General is yet another positive step in the long march towards federal cannabis legalization…But there is still uncertainty for who his replacement will be. That being said, an increasing number of Americans live in states where cannabis is legalized, and with public support continuing to increase, the future looks brighter for the industry, and we believe that the industry will continue to grow, and at an increasingly accelerated rate.”
Currently, Trump has named Sessions’ Chief of Staff Matthew Whitaker as Acting Attorney General. Other than being known as a Trump loyalist and expressing criticism of the ongoing Mueller probe, it is unknown what Whitaker’s position is on cannabis.