Cannabis Businesses Stay Chill in Face of Federal Threat
File photo by Timothy Norris/L.A. Weekly

Cannabis Businesses Stay Chill in Face of Federal Threat

In late February, White House press secretary Sean Spicer implied that President Donald Trump’s administration may crack down on recreational marijuana businesses. The news worried legal marijuana entrepreneurs accustomed to the Obama administration’s willingness to allow state legal businesses to operate.

Conversations with a few Southern California businesses suggest that, while they are conscious of a threat from Washington, panic has not set in.

Neither Spicer nor U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has specifically said that state-legal businesses will be targeted. Coming from Sessions, this could be seen as a positive sign for the industry. Unlike many Republicans, Sessions remains a committed prohibitionist. Last year, the Alabama senator even said that “good people" don’t smoke marijuana.

Adrian Sedlin, CEO of California grower Canndescent, said the uproar is the result of incomplete information. According to Sedlin, Spicer was “clearly not prepared” to field a marijuana enforcement question and gave a “somewhat confused answer. We’re all filling in the blanks based on Jeff Sessions’ past positions.”

Sedlin, who serves as co-chair of the National Cannabis Industry Association’s policy council, said Spicer’s comments have created an alarmism that isn’t necessarily justified. “A lot of people are running this statement to a place it’s not intended.”

He said the council had a meeting a couple of weeks ago, and they got "pretty consistent anecdotal feedback that the industry” isn’t going to be shut down. “I am sure there will be a crackdown on the black market,” Sedlin said. Other illegal practices, such as selling across state lines and growing on federal land, also will face scrutiny. He added that such actions by the federal government could be “welcome,” since his business does follow applicable laws.  

As an example, he cited a recent letter from the Justice Department, which warned the Moapa Paiute tribe about its plan to host a High Times Cannabis Cup on its land outside Las Vegas. “If you look at the nuance of the policy, adult-use laws haven’t been implemented in Nevada,” Sedlin said. (The recent High Times event had been scaled back.)

“I don’t agree with the Trump administration and their comments,” Priscilla Vilchis, CEO of Premium Produce, a Nevada grower and manufacturer that hopes to expand into California, said. “But I see their comments as a slight advantage for my company.” She suggested that if the recreational market stalled in Nevada, it could protect existing medical businesses from the glutted market and price collapse that has been seen in Colorado.

Both executives expressed confidence that the administration can be won over to the industry view that legalizing is a net benefit for society. Both mentioned evidence that marijuana use can help opiate addicts quit. (Attorney General Sessions says he doubts this is true.) And with the majority of Americans now supporting full legalization, Sedlin suggested that the industry is in a strong position.

“I’m more in a wait-and-see mode,” Sedlin said. “I don’t find hope or anxiety to be very good strategies.”

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