Jeff Sessions' dumb decision has gray market cannabis users wondering what's next
Pot users are scared today. Especially users in the gray market. The government might be coming their way.
The nation's top lawman let loose this morning his federal agents to nab, jail and fine marijuana growers, sellers and users as they see fit, the Associated Press is reporting.
It means, pot businesses and home growers might now be exposed to federal prosecution.
The federal agents are expected to start by going after people who are shipping pot out of state. That's a federal issue. But it's also illegal even in states with a legal market.
So while many pot-lovers are dismayed today, Sessions's move is striking more terror in the hearts of the marijuana-lovers who operate in the "gray market" that skirts the laws. The gray market is a small part of the weed scene in legal states, but it is responsible for a fair amount of the product smoked in prohibition states.
Take Will (not his real name). Though he doesn't do it anymore, Will grew marijuana in his house in Colorado. He claims it was all for personal use. Much of it was. But, the flower from many of those plants ended up in the hands of friends and acquaintances in Tennessee, Missouri and other parts of the South. They'd either drive to meet him in Colorado, or he'd mail it to them.
Will defends what he was doing. Along with supplying average users, he gave ounces to an Iraq War vet to calm his PTSD, and pounds to a leukemia patient in the South who used it for nausea and pain.
"It's not bad stuff, weed," Will says. "It's a medicine. If I was sending Aspirin or Zofran across state lines to a cancer patient because they'd made them illegal in the South, I wouldn't feel bad either."
Still, he says, "I'm glad I got out of that. (Jeff Session) scares the shit out of me."
If the gray market operations like Will's go away, so too might the happiness and health of the people who depend on it.
"It helped me a lot," says Frank (also not his real name), one of Will's customers, the Leukemia patient. A septuagenarian teacher, he's laid up many days from the pain of his condition. Before Frank got weed from Will, he risked his own freedom by growing a pot plant in his basement in the deep south. He was so scared of getting caught, he even hid it from his wife.
The federal government says that marijuana is more dangerous than cocaine (it isn't), and is in the same legal class as heroin (it shouldn't be). But the Obama Administration directed drug agents, through the famous Cole Memo, not to go after states, like Colorado and now California, that sell pot in stores.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding the Cole Memo, a source close to him leaked this morning. "Federal prosecutors where pot is legal," the says the AP , can "decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana law."
Sessions was a federal prosecutor in Alabama during the height of the Drug War. He's said marijuana is as dangerous as heroin and that he'd thought the Ku Klux Klan "was OK until I found out they smoked pot."
Unleashing the feds will add massive confusion and uncertainty to the legal pot business. California started legal adult-use sales this past mere days ago. Fear of a federal crackdown might slow its expansion. Pot was a $10 billion business nationwide in 2017.
Since weed was legalized in Colorado in 2012, it's been a major success. Crime hasn't skyrocketed, nor has teen use. Denver and Boulder are flush with cannabis money, leading to high-rise apartments, art galleries and nice restaurants. And the state has brought in $500 in tax revenue, much of which goes toward schools. Aside from a few unwanted side effects, like transients moving to Colorado to smoke its weed — and sometimes to haul it back out of state — and a few people getting too high too often, Colorado has benefited far more than it's been harmed.
The reaction from the pot community has been swift and furious, too. The Marijuana Policy Project is already asking for donations to help fight Sessions.
“Jeff Sessions is acting on his warped desire to return America to the failed beliefs of the ‘Just Say No’ and Reefer Madness eras," says Erik Altieri, head of NORML. "This action flies in the face of sensible public policy and broad public opinion."
Politicians in pot-legal states are rallying against Sessions in the face of a potential crackdown, too — including Cory Gardner, a Republican senator from Colorado.
"This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation. With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states," tweeted Gardner. "I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation."
Washington governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, tweeted that he would "vigorously defend our state’s laws against undue federal infringement."
Since Sessions's agents will likely target illegal operations before they go after the legal ones, that leaves legal business worried, but it leaves gray market growers as scared as they've been in years.
"I'm sure some of my friends are nervous as hell today," says Will. "Although it's not like they're gonna stop."