The marijuana entrepreneurs will have to wait and see how President-elect Donald Trump and his U.S. Attorney General nominee, Senator Jeff Sessions, will treat the multi-billion dollar state-regulated marijuana industry.
During Senator Sessions' confirmation hearing earlier this week, the staunch anti-marijuana drug warrior from Alabama seemed to be tempered when Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, asked if Sessions would spend the federal government's limited resources on investigating and prosecuting medical marijuana patients in the 32 states where medical use is legal.
"I would never commit to never enforcing federal laws," said Sessions. "But absolutely it's a problem of resources for the federal government."
Senator Sessions' statements are very different from what he said in the past regarding marijuana, Senator Leahy said, explaining that at one point Sessions suggested drug traffickers, including marijuana traffickers, should face the death penalty when convicted for the crime twice.
Sessions smiled while he said he doesn't know under what circumstances he would've said such a thing and then added: "That is not my view today."
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was not comforted by Sessions' statements at the hearing.
"After finally being put on the spot and questioned on the issue, we are no closer to clarity in regards to Sessions' plans for how to treat state marijuana laws than we were yesterday," NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said through a statement. "If anything, his comments are a cause for concern and can be interpreted as leaving the door open for enforcing federal law in legalized states."
Evan Nison, a marijuana entrepreneur who runs his own marketing company and co-found a THC-infused products company with Whoopi Goldberg, says the industry is alert after Sessions' statements but most believe Sessions will respect states rights.
"The industry sees Sessions as a potentially big threat, but nothing more serious than the day-to-day hurdles," says Nison. "If Sessions had his way, he'd enforce federal law as he sees fit. But he's in the Trump administration and things are different."
In April 2016, Sessions said "good people don't smoke marijuana." He also criticized the Obama administration for allowing states to regulate cannabis. However, Session's more tolerant tone could be the result of comments by incoming Trump White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who said that Sessions will toe the Trump line, which is in support of medical marijuana and state's rights.
"I want to make sure everyone understands," Spicer told Fox News. "When you come into the Trump administration, it's the Trump agenda that you are implementing, not your own. I think Senator Sessions is well aware of that."
The Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit that fights drug laws, started a petition against Sessions, who they describe as a drug war extremist bent on bringing back "militarized, Reagan-era drug war tactics and raids on marijuana businesses."
Bill Piper, DPA senior director of national affairs, acknowledged that Sessions' comments have softened but said his answer about how he would approach the industry was "wishy-washy."
"I guess it's up to Donald Trump to say what the Administration will do," Piper write via Twitter.
Isaac Dietrich, CEO of social network for cannabis users MassRoots, says that the country cannot afford to lose the state-regulated marijuana industry, which is expected to bring in over $20 billion by 2020.
"If Senator Sessions goes after the regulated cannabis industry, he will destroy tens of thousands of jobs, shut down hundreds of small businesses and take away millions of dollars from our schools," says Dietrich. "Hopefully the Trump Administration supports states' rights on cannabis legalization, despite Senator Sessions' personal views."
Perhaps the most revealing answer as to where Sessions stands on enforcement came after Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, asked Sessions about how he would deal with the what he described as a federalist approach to law enforcement around marijuana.
"I think one obvious concern is that the United States Congress has made possession of marijuana in every state and distribution of it an illegal act," says Sessions. "If that is something that is not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It's not so much the Attorney General's job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job effectively as we're able."