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‘Cannabis thought leaders’ are cautiously optimistic about Trump

Snoop Dogg and Donald Trump (AP)
Snoop Dogg and Donald Trump (AP)

Donald Trump will be inaugurated this month, and a wide range of companies, from pharmaceuticals to health insurers to industrial manufacturers, are wondering what kind of impact the Trump administration will have on their business. In most cases, they have little to go on, since Trump has never held political office. And so they’re left to weigh scattered comments he has made on television and Twitter against his general policy views.

After conducting that sort of analysis, a leading marijuana business publication believes there’s a good chance Trump will be friendly toward the tide of marijuana legalization, or at least not stand in its way. But the same cannot be said of Trump’s choice of attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions.

Marijuana Business Daily surveyed 18 “cannabis thought leaders,” including consultants, CEOs, lobbyists, and three members of Congress, to get their take on what Trump will mean for weed. The conclusion of the new report is more positive than negative.

“For the most part, experts all think we will see a continuation of some form of the status quo,” says Chris Walsh, editor of Marijuana Business Daily. “Maybe there will be some efforts to crack down here and there, but the consensus is that a widespread crackdown will be difficult. If Trump’s going to attack the marijuana industry—like the recreational side, or the new states that legalized—it’s going to be very difficult for him to do that. He’s going to have a very hard time unwinding all the time and money and effort that states have put into these programs.” Trump’s staff did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Four new states recently legalized recreational marijuana, bringing the total to 8 states and Washington, DC that have legalized recreational use. Twenty-nine states and Washington, DC have legalized medical marijuana. The size of the legal marijuana industry, by sales, is now estimated at $5 billion.

Why Trump could be good for marijuana

Trump is known to generally favor states’ rights over federal regulation, and cannabis has been a state-by-state issue. Trump’s public statements on marijuana legalization are scant, but at a campaign rally in October 2015, he said, “I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state.” He also told Fox News that year that he supports medical marijuana “100%.”

This gives the medical marijuana community hope that Trump won’t interfere with the tide of progress. And support for medical marijuana among Americans is polling higher than 80% these days.

Trump also campaigned on a platform of creating jobs, and the legalization of marijuana in many states—both medical and recreational—has done that. If Trump wants to be seen as a job creator, taking aim at the marijuana industry wouldn’t make much sense; better to help continue its growth or do nothing to stop it.

Support for recreational marijuana is polling at around only 50%. “Does he want to wage a battle,” Walsh asks, “that will pit him against half the country?”

He might. And Walsh acknowledges that negative perceptions about recreational marijuana still dominate. (The marijuana industry has even taken to calling it “adult-use” instead of “recreational” to avoid negative images.) “In his bubble, if Trump thinks this is a bunch of uneducated, pot-smoking hippies, who are running amok being stoned all the time—and people still hold that stereotype, unfortunately, even though it’s not true—if he believes that, then you could see him making a case in his own mind that the recreational side needs to be reined in,” Walsh says.

Marijuana Business Daily graphic
Marijuana Business Daily graphic

Why Trump’s administration could be bad for marijuana

Alabama senator Jeff Sessions actively opposes marijuana legalization. He famously once said, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” For people focused on marijuana legalization, Sessions is just about the worst possible attorney general pick.

But what matters is how long of a leash Trump gives Sessions to set the tone. It’s the same unknown variable that those in the sports betting community are puzzling over. “It does seem like there are much bigger fish to fry” for both Trump and Sessions, reasons Walsh, “but Trump has shown time and time again that he will pick fights over things you would never dream of. Is he going to fire off a tweet at 3 in the morning about marijuana and set the industry on edge?”

As it happens, Trump has tweeted about marijuana before, just once: he told television host Bill Maher to “cut back on the pot.”

Of course, you can’t determine anything from a joking tweet, and some argue you can’t even determine much from the more serious comments Trump has made about marijuana. As Rep. Erl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) tells Marijuana Business Daily, “Anyone who takes Donald Trump literally and goes over everything he has said will just have a headache, because sometimes he contradicted himself within the same paragraph.”

Banking, as it happens, also plays a role in the advancement of marijuana businesses. One of the biggest pain points for marijuana companies, even in states that have legalized and including marijuana-adjacent businesses that don’t touch the plant, has been the refusal of mainstream banks to grant them accounts. Even Marijuana Business Daily, a news publication, says it has faced that problem, because it has “marijuana” in its name. Trump or Sessions could alleviate or tighten these restrictions by telling Congress to exert pressure on banks.

Although Trump would have a hard time clawing back progress that has already been made, some fear he could crack down on the four new states (California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada) that legalized recreational use in 2016, by curtailing their programs before they begin. “He could theoretically try to scare these new states into not moving forward or into delaying their programs until there’s clarification from the administration,” Walsh says. “Clarification that may never come.”

On the positive side, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), one of the “thought leaders” included in the new report, told Marijuana Business Daily last year that he is working on reintroducing a marijuana banking bill, and that a GOP colleague in the House is likely to sponsor it.

Meanwhile, just this week, the state of California retained Eric Holder for a legal position where the former attorney general will be on call for any fight with Trump. California was an early leader in both medical and recreational marijuana, so marijuana insiders are buoyed by the news of Holder’s new role.

In general, it’s all speculation until Trump takes office—and likely even beyond then. “The big problem right now is uncertainty, especially for these states that just passed it, like Nevada for recreational and Florida for medical,” says Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), who is a member of the Cannabis Caucus. “There’s a lot of speculation among us about what’s going to happen, because like in every area, it’s so contradictory.”

Even though there are many possibilities, Walsh, when pressed, bets that “leaving things in limbo for a while” is the most likely path Trump will take. For those who have fought for legalization progress, “limbo,” or the status quo, would be just fine.

For added emphasis, a pro-legalization group plans to hand out joints at Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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