President Trump: Election surprise creates huge uncertainties for cannabis industry

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Donald Trump’s upset election victory is causing consternation in the marijuana industry even though seven states legalized medical or recreational cannabis and another paved the way for MMJ businesses.

Executives are uncertain of what a Trump presidency means in terms of federal regulations and enforcement, with some fearing an eventual crackdown.

Still, other industry officials and experts suggested the state-level victories could ultimately lead to some positive marijuana-related steps at the federal level, including reform of banking laws and Section 280E of the federal tax code.

They also suggested a Trump administration would generally lay off the industry, although a Republican-dominated government could reduce the odds it would legalize cannabis anytime soon.

“As far as we’re concerned, if the federal policy is the status quo, then the states will continue moving forward and we will see successes in the future, as well as being able to implement the laws that were passed yesterday,” said Marijuana Policy Project chief Rob Kampia.

Vivien Azer, a senior research analyst for Cowen Group, a New York investment bank, predicted to Bloomberg News that marijuana will be low on the list of priorities of a President Trump – although there could be a greater emphasis on enforcement.

During Tuesday’s election, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voted to legalize recreational marijuana, while Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota approved medical cannabis initiatives. Montana, which legalized medical marijuana in 2004, also passed a measure to set up commercial cultivation operations and dispensaries.

Key federal memos

In many ways, the nation’s marijuana industry is predicated on a handful of memos from the U.S. Department of Justice: the Ogden and Cole Memos, which paved the way for a thriving medical cannabis marketplace and then adult-use trade after the latest Cole Memo was issued in 2013.

And there’s likely a good bit of fear and loathing rippling through cannabis business offices, especially given the prospect of Trump appointing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as attorney general.

“There’s nothing in our law that protects adult use,” said Dale Sky Jones, the executive chancellor of Oaksterdam University in California. “The only thing I can hope for … is that Trump will choose not to care.”

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release that a Trump administration could jeopardize all of the gains that have been made by the cannabis movement and industry in recent years.

“The momentum for ending marijuana prohibition took a great leap forward with the victories in California and elsewhere, but the federal government retains the power to hobble much of what we’ve accomplished,” Nadelmann said. “The progress we’ve made … will be very much at risk when Donald Trump enters the White House.”

But there are others who remain hopeful, including the MPP’s Kampia and Oregon congressman Earl Blumenauer, who co-hosted a call with reporters Wednesday morning.

“It is obviously concerning, given some of the comments that people like Giuliani have made. But … there were millions of Trump supporters who were part of this movement in the states that voted on (pro-cannabis ballot measures on Tuesday),” Blumenauer said. “I do believe that the next administration will follow the policies of the Obama administration.”

Blumenauer further argued that the pro-cannabis coalition in Congress has now grown exponentially, with the addition of states such as Florida to the medical marijuana fold. That, in turn, means more lawmakers with pro-cannabis constituents to represent, which means more pressure in Washington DC to leave the industry alone. That would mean that the industry may continue unabated.

Cabinet uncertainty

On top of that, it’s far from certain whom Trump will appoint to his cabinet. The next attorney general could end up being neutral on cannabis, pointed out Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University.

“I think the nomination of Chris Christie for attorney general would open a can of worms that even Donald Trump would gag on,” Baker said, noting the “Bridgegate” scandal is still haunting the Republican governor. “I think people around Trump would urge him – if they were influential – and simply say, ‘Just steer clear of this one and go for a Michael Muchesie or Rudy Giuliani, just somebody that’s trailing him without a taint of illegality.’”

Baker further said more progress on cannabis-related reforms in Congress is a real possibility, and even said he could see the president-elect working with a congressman such as Blumenauer because Trump’s not an “orthodox Republican.”

“The climate could be more favorable to loosening up the federal laws around bank transactions, but there has to be somebody who Trump trusts willing to be the entrepreneur of that particular idea,” Baker said.

Blumenauer on Wednesday said that banking reform and 280E are still top priorities he believes could get through a GOP-controlled Congress during a Trump administration.

“These two provisions are teed up, and we will see action within the next two years to stop this discrimination against state-legal marijuana businesses. I think it will be supported on a bipartisan basis,” Blumenauer said.

Ready for a fight

But if the pendulum swings the other way, there are still those in the cannabis business who are willing to fight Trump and the DOJ tooth and nail.

Steve DeAngelo, the founder and CEO of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, began pumping his fist in the air Tuesday night when asked about the prospect of a Trump presidency. DeAngelo almost seemed to relish the thought of battling Trump and his next attorney general.

“We will be ready, and we will take them to court and kick their butts so bad the DOJ will never take anybody to court over cannabis again,” DeAngelo said. “Bring it on.”

John Schroyer, Bart Schaneman and Omar Sacirbey contributed to this article.

John Schroyer can be reached at

Bart Schaneman can be reached at

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at