In California, Cannabis entrepreneurs bet Sessions’ harsher policy is all smoke

In California, Cannabis entrepreneurs bet Sessions' harsher policy is all smoke

Last week was a roller coaster for the California cannabis industry. After the excitement of adult use cannabis becoming legal Jan. 1, on Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions threw the industry into a cold sweat by announcing the Department of Justice would no longer follow the Cole Memo, a set of guidelines that deprioritized the enforcement of federal marijuana laws.

But once the initial wave of hysteria subsided, the general consensus among entrepreneurs in the Golden State has been that Sessions’ action was more of a publicity stunt than genuine threat.

“It’s very disappointing to see,” says Jason Santos, the CEO and founder of BurnTV—a cannabis-centric Netflix-type digital lifestyle and entertainment platform.

“In some ways I think it will cause people in the industry to second guess whether they want to spend money on marketing and advertising, and putting themselves out there. But I’m highly skeptical that it’s going to really impact the industry that much. It feels like a bunch of talk with the intention of creating worry more than it is something that’s actionable.”

Steve DeAngelo, CEO of the industry gold standard dispensary Harborside Health Center, said in a public statement Friday: “Sessions is the last standing advocate of the widely discredited, unscientific Reefer Madnessapproach to cannabis policy … and chances are remote that his action will impact the legal cannabis industry.”

Yet, cannabis is still a schedule one drug. So it’s within the realm of possibilities that the government could take down businesses in the legal and black markets.

Santos contends that the federal government doesn’t have the time or money to pursue and dismantle an industry that has a 64 percent approval rate in America.

Considering the fact 30 U.S. states have cannabis laws, Santos explains that the Department of Justice will likely create war—at least a massive legal war—if tax-paying businesses compliant with local laws get shut down.

It’s still advisable for the industry to proceed with caution, however. Kellsi Booth, an attorney who represents large-scale growers in Los Angeles and Nevada, explains that although the timing of Sessions’ announcement is curious, every business is still considered a target—and will be—until cannabis is rescheduled.