As the rest of the world watches President Barack Obama and Congress play tug-of-war with a U.S. Supreme Court nominee, the marijuana industry is paying close attention to the man at the center.
On Wednesday, Obama announced centrist appeals court Judge Merrick Garland as his choice to fill the seat made vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.
A group of medical marijuana industry leaders released joint statements in response, largely supporting the pick of a man who ruled against a move that would have made it easier to study the potential health benefits of the drug.
Garland sided with the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2013 against advocates seeking to force the agency to reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I drug, the classification for narcotics such as heroin and cocaine.
Garland, on a panel of three judges, ruled that the DEA wasn’t biased against pot, but also argued that scientists should determine the safety of the drug.
“Garland appears to be a safe choice from the cannabis industry perspective,” said Jeffery M. Zucker, president of Denver-based consulting firm Green Lion Partners, in a statement released Wednesday.
“Although he hasn’t been a champion of the issue, it’s good to know that he has an open mind to listen to the scientists that actually understand how the plant’s chemical compounds interact with the human body.”
Business owners are also interested in the potential outcome of a case with national implications involving two of Colorado’s neighbors.
Kansas and Nebraska in 2014 filed a complaint with the Supreme Court alleging that pot is flooding in from across state lines, violating federal interstate commerce laws and the Controlled Substances Act.
Suing Colorado over pot
The solicitor general asked the court not to wade into the dispute, but business owners are still deeply engaged in the process because future litigation is likely as the growing industry “works out the kinks,” said Kevin Cheney, a partner at Denver-based Cheney, Galluzzi & Howard, LLC.
There’s definitely been chatter, said Travis Howard, owner of Green Dream medical dispensary in Gunbarrel and Shift Cannabis consulting in Niwot.
The chatter has changed in the past few months, away from speculation over what a pot-unfriendly president could do to the burgeoning industry.
With the exodus of multiple candidates from the Republican field, the remaining presidential hopefuls (Democrats, too) all appear supportive of states’ rights to maintain industry.
There is an “open question” about the alliance between front runner Donald Trump and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who during his run said he would enforce the federal ban on pot if elected.
“The idea of attorney general Chris Christie could be of some concern,” West said. Overall, though, the industry feels more hopeful now that the national rhetoric toward marijuana has become more friendly.
“It’s a good sign that what we’re looking at is likely to be a presidential conversation around how states should handle things, as opposed to rehashing the old prohibition idea,” West added.
Howard said that, while this was certainly a business concern, he was more worried as a citizen by a Congress blocking the President from fulfilling his Constitutional obligations to nominate a justice.
Shortly after President Obama announced the nomination, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell restated his position that the Senate would not vote on a nomination until after the election.
“This shouldn’t be a political question,” Howard said. “It’s completely counter-intuitive to the Court’s purpose” and the larger issue at hand.
“As a business that can be affected (by the eventual makeup of the Court), do we care? Of course we do,” he continued. “But are we so naive to think that cannabis should be a foundational issue of a Supreme Court justice. Hell no.”