President Donald Trump's commitment to protect state cannabis laws is a step forward, but work remains on reforming the state's Medical Marijuana Act, a spokesman for the Arizona dispensary industry said Friday.
In a surprise move, Trump gave assurances to a Republican senator from Colorado that he supported states' rights and would help in finding a federal solution to marijuana laws.
The bipartisan agreement promises to end problems like the general ban on banking by cannabis businesses or gun rights for cannabis consumers.
"This is progress," said Kevin DeMenna, a lobbyist for the Arizona Dispensaries Association. "It's a great day in America."
DeMenna noted that no new executive orders have been published yet, and no new laws passed. But "it's a good and better tone" from the federal government that state governments like Arizona's should acknowledge, he said.
Demetri Downing, executive director of the Marijuana Trade Industry Association, said he's happy to see the fears of those who "are aggressively critical of the president" not coming true.
"In this case his advisers or insights have led him to the most intelligent conclusions — protect patient freedoms and states rights," Downing said, adding that he "couldn’t be more supportive of his decision."
Arizona has been a pioneer on state cannabis issues with its voter-approved, fairly liberal medical-cannabis law. The state now has about 130 dispensaries and roughly 160,000 patients. It's become big business in the state, employing thousands of people and bringing in $30-40 million a year to state and local treasuries in sales tax alone.
Meanwhile, California, Colorado, and Nevada — all of which share a border with Arizona — now allow cannabis sales to adults 21 and older.
Yet federal law hasn't kept up with these changes. Possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis for any reason remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Thanks to President Trump — words you don't hear very often in a positive context — the situation could be about to change.
“Since the campaign, President Trump has consistently supported states’ rights to decide for themselves how best to approach marijuana,” Colorado Senator Cory Gardner said in a statement released on Friday. “Late Wednesday, I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry. Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all.”
"...The statement that the Senator put out earlier today is accurate," Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders soon confirmed to the White House press corps.
Gardner had decided to block all of Trump's judicial nominees earlier this year after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, which had provided protection to states under the Obama Administration. The memo, little more than a Justice Department guideline, pledged a mostly hands-off policy by the feds in state-regulated medical and adult-use cannabis sales and cultivation, and entrepreneurs and consumers feared what the rescission might mean.
After receiving Trump's word this week that he'd respect states' rights on the matter, Gardner said he lifted all his remaining holds on the nominees.
Gardner's statement said he will work across the aisle to help Trump deliver on his campaign pledge to protect states' rights on the marijuana issue.
"Given what I've read, I'm thrilled that President Trump is holding up his campaign promise to support medical marijuana," said Gina Berman, medical director of Giving Tree Wellness Center dispensaries. "His actions are supported by the majority of Americans and it is nice to see our elected representatives support those who they represent. We are looking forward to banking and tax reform to follow quickly."
"We are definitely excited about the news," said Steve White, CEO of Harvest. "It should be good for patients and businesses alike. But our excitement is tempered a bit by the fact that we haven’t seen the form of the protections for legal cannabis use. And the federal government doesn’t exactly have a stellar track record on this issue."
Trump's agreement on cannabis comes in the same week that former Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican who has long opposed legalization, announced he was joining the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis investment firm.
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"Can you feel the earth shifting for lasting marijuana reform??" Oregon Congressman and legalization supporter Earl Blumenauer tweeted on Friday.
DeMenna said it's too early to tell how the potential changes will affect Arizona.
He and advocates like Downing are still working with lawmakers to try and pass bills that many see as containing necessary improvements to Arizona's medical marijuana law, such as lowering patient card fees and testing retail marijuana for contaminants.