We may not have the peanuts and Cracker Jacks, but we have a real pressure cooker going on here, bottom of the ninth with regards to marijuana policy. Up at bat is the captain of the Trump Administration players' anti-legalization brigade, Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But as Sessions went up to bat against the legalization movement, he never managed to connect. Here are three swings Sessions took, and why each can be considered an off-the-mark strike.
Strike One: Marijuana Only ‘Slightly Less Awful’ Than Heroin
Sessions gets his first strike for saying marijuana is only “slightly less awful” than heroin, an idea that research has blown out of the water in the past. In fact, official word from Drug Enforcement Agency Chief Chuck Rosenberg is that heroin is “clearly more dangerous” than marijuana. It doesn't take a professional umpire to see cannabis being "slightly less awful" than heroin is a swing and a miss from heroin is "clearly more dangerous" than marijuana.
Strike Two: Marijuana As A Solution For The Heroin Crisis
Strike two for Sessions comes from his remarks to law enforcement officials earlier this year (at the same place he whiffed above), Sessions argued that he was "astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana".
AG Sessions seems to have invented this point up himself, as we can't find reference to it outside of AG Sessions having said it himself.
As the Washington Post reported, policymakers and researchers are not suggesting the legalization of marijuana is the magic key to wiping black market heroin off the streets. Marijuana is not intended to be a miraculous panacea per se, although studies have shown that states that have legalized marijuana do have lower rates of opioid prescriptions per doctor and substantially fewer hospitalizations/overdoses from opioids per capita in legal marijuana states. And research published in one of the oldest, most respected medical journals in the world showed that public health professionals surveyed rated heroin as multiple times more destructive than cannabis.
That's 0-2, AG Sessions.
Strike Three: No Money to Prosecute
The clincher comes from Congress, specifically congressional action to deny any funds toward marijuana prosecution. The recently unveiled budget bill contains a provision that lets states continue to create and uphold their own medical marijuana policies without worrying about federal intervention.
Specific wording of the provision, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, specifies that none of the funds made available to the DOJ may be used to prevent states with existing marijuana policies from implementing their own laws that guide the cultivation, distribution, use or possession of medical marijuana. That effectively chokes off a major avenue of potential prosecution - growers and dispensaries engaged in medical likely have some insulation against legal actions by the Department even if they also participate in recreational markets, and the DOJ is not going to risk all of its funding by defying Congress and prosecuting for medical.
Which means AG Sessions couldn't even swing the bat; he got caught looking.
Beyond Good Sportsmanship - Creating A Win-Win
Even though the three strikes largely put a damper on movements against marijuana legalization, marijuana policy doesn’t have to be a win-lose situation. If policymakers were more apt to approach the situation moderately, like Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, everyone can win. Although opposed to the amendment that legalized recreational sales in his state, Hickenlooper has come to accept it while keeping an arms-length approach to the “experiment".
He was one of the governors who signed a letter written to AG Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, asking them to engage with the governors before making any changes to the enforcement and regulatory systems. Hickenlooper accepts and supports the experiment when needed, but is also not afraid to amend or sign bills that enforce what he feels are fair practices, like a strict limit on the number of plants grown in residential areas.
And it's those politicians with open minds like Hickenlooper's, who go the extra mile to engage with those of different opinions on legalization, that will help win the prohibition crowd over to where everyone can see the benefit.
Dan Ogden is a 20+ year veteran of the executive search industry, having covered operations, regulatory and consulting verticals within capital markets as well as data science, data analytics and, more recently, the cannabis industry within search firm and internal corporate HR leadership roles. Dan is Principal of the practice at Delta 9, the Western Hemisphere's' only dedicated cannabis industry executive search firm. To find out how Delta 9's proprietary, trademarked end-to-end recruiting methodology can help you find the key executives to make your company thrive and grow in the cannabis industry, shoot us an email, or give us a ring at 212.390.8190.