Politicians and cannabis industry insiders, alike, were surprised Friday morning by Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner’s announcement that he has struck a deal with President Donald J. Trump that would protect states’ marijuana laws from federal interference.
In a statement that summarized much of the reaction, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the co-founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, called the announcement “another head spinning moment.”
“We should hope for the best, but not take anything for granted. Trump changes his mind constantly, and Republican leadership is still in our way,” he said in a statement. “Momentum is clearly building in the states and here in DC. The tide is changing. Now is the time to redouble our efforts.”
He followed up with at tweet that asked, “can you feel the earth shifting for lasting marijuana reform??”
Trump's announcement . . . Boehner, our longtime opponent, joining a cannabis company . . . movement on the ground—MI, IL, MO . . . can you feel the earth shifting for lasting marijuana reform?? https://t.co/cFz4jwAng8
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) April 13, 2018
Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, a co-founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus expressed cautions optimism.
“I am cautiously optimistic that this announcement is a meaningful step forward for the states’ rights and sensible marijuana policy,” Polis said in a statement to The Cannabist. “This is the type of solution I have advocated for during my time in Congress, most notably with the McClintock-Polis amendment, which I have repeatedly offered to prevent the federal government from interfering with states that have legalized marijuana.”
California Congresswoman Barbara Lee said in a statement emailed to The Cannabist that she hopes President Trump makes good on this commitment, because the federal government has no business interfering in states that have decriminalized cannabis.
In January Lee introduced a companion House bill to Sen. Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act. She also in January introduced the a bill dubbed, Restricting Excessive Federal Enforcement and Regulations of Cannabis (REFER) Act, which would prevent the government from spending tax dollars to enforce federal law in states that have legalized or decriminalized cannabis.
“While this is a step in the right direction, I remain concerned that President Trump has surrounded himself with extreme voices on this issue – most notably Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” Lee said. “The best way for Congress to prevent federal interference in state and local marijuana laws would be to pass my legislation, the REFER Act, which explicitly prohibits any funding for federal meddling in cannabis regulations across the country.”
On the ground in Colorado, a state that blazed the trail in marijuana legalization, Gov. John Hickenlooper called the Gardner-Trump conversation a “reasonable and promising development.”
“The Department of Justice will get far greater benefit per dollars spent by continuing to focus on major crimes such as heroin, meth and human trafficking,” he said in a statement emailed to The Cannabist.
Mason Tvert, co-director of Colorado’s Amendment 64 campaign and vice president of communications at VS Strategies, a Denver-based public affairs firm that specializes in the cannabis industry, expressed gratitude to Sen. Gardner for standing up for the state’s residents.
“Colorado has taken great strides toward replacing the illegal marijuana market with a responsibly regulated system. It has been a long and difficult process, but we may now be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. This is one more step toward ending the irrational policy of marijuana prohibition, not only in Colorado, but throughout the country,” he said in a statement.
Adam Eidinger, the Washington, D.C. (and soon to be Maryland) legalization advocate behind the city’s Initiative 71, which legalized possession of up to two ounces of marijuana for residents and visitors, said the announcement ushered the movement into “a whole new world.”
“I think the president is desperate to recover in popularity and fulfilling campaign promise that cuts across party affiliation,” he told The Cannabist.
The moment, he hopes, will fire up the debate about what marijuana legalization should look like.
“This is good news for business,” he said pointing out the surge in cannabis stock prices Friday, “but will it be good news for consumers, patients, and individuals who just want the right to use their own cannabis?”
Joe Hodas, COO, General Cannabis Corp, a Denver-based holding company for multiple marijuana subsidiaries, said his reaction to the day’s developments wasn’t dissimilar to how he reacted to news in January that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was rescinding the Cole Memo.
“We listen, watch, and continue to do what’s right and compliant,” he told The Cannabist.
Andy Williams, Founder and President of Medicine Man Technologies, a publicly traded cannabis advisory and consulting firm, called out the work of conserviative-leaning politicians and advocacy groups.
“Yet again, we see Senator Cory Gardner stepping up for Colorado and making a big impact on cannabis industry,” he said in a statement. “Kudos to the New Federalism Fund on the work they did to educate Republicans like Gardner on marijuana issues. The next step from here should be making law out of Cole memo, so it’s legislation instead of a referendum. I believe this also has potential to fix banking and 280e.”
The appreciation for conservative efforts to move Trump was echoed by Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project, who said that Gardner has done a great service for his constituents by standing up for federalism.
“Everyone who knew about President Trump’s statements on this issue during the campaign were hoping he would uphold those values and support states’ abilities to enact laws regulating marijuana for medical or adult use while in office,” he said. “This news should make states more comfortable implementing their legalization programs. It should also serve as a rallying cry for lawmakers to pass comprehensive legislation that leaves marijuana policy to the states permanently.”
Kevin Sabet, the leader of SAM, a nonprofit group opposed to marijuana legalization, called the reported deal between the president and Gardner “ill-conceived and wrong.”
“SAM stands with virtually all major medical and law enforcement associations in condemning the use and legalization of marijuana. The black market does not honor states’ rights – it is thriving in Colorado and other legalized states,” Sabet said in an email to The Cannabist. “This is creating harms in all states, in the form of increased stoned driving fatalities, the increased prevalence of pot candies, and more crime. Senator Gardner is simply protecting special interests at the expense of public health. SAM will redouble its efforts and amplify the voices of millions of Americans who do not want their children exposed to increased drug use. We hope the president — who doesn’t want to be known as the ‘Pot President’ – will reverse course soon. This reckless plan will not go unanswered.”