Marijuana News Roundup: As Trump Inauguration Gets Closer, Pot Industry Frets

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Compared to ginning up a new arms race, President-elect Donald Trump’s position on state laws legalizing marijuana barely seems relevant. Trump himself has, as usual, been difficult to pin down on the issue of state legalization laws.

However his nominee for Attorney General, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, has taken a firm and consistent stand against legalization. If confirmed by the Senate (a cinch, really), Sessions is widely thought to be likely to dump the Obama administration’s “look the other way” policy on state laws on marijuana. What would that mean?

One thing it could mean is a veritable flood of lawsuits that would cost the Justice Department (and taxpayers) millions of dollars. It’s a distraction and though a few million to defend against lawsuits is small change in the federal budget, the optics are poor.

For Trump, it’s a political calculation: how does he receive more favorable press coverage? Essentially he can’t lose. If Sessions leaves enforcement as it has been for the past several years, Trump can take credit. If he allows Sessions to return to the good/bad old days, and it results in massive bad press, Trump can step in and say it was all a misunderstanding and there won’t be any change.

Sessions would be forced to take the same line as Newt Gingrich did last week regarding his comment that draining the swamp was no longer a priority. Trump set Gingrich straight and Gingrich had to eat his words the next day. Or Sessions could resign, but that’s highly unlikely. He has other fish to fry and no better stove than the Justice Department to fry them on.

Licensing Medical Marijuana Stirs Up Trouble for States
The seven lucky balls that popped out of the Arizona Department of Health Services lottery machine in October produced big winners — not in the state’s Powerball game, but in the competition to make money in the medical marijuana industry.

The prize winners were granted licenses to open a medical marijuana dispensary in a state where patients with prescriptions to treat conditions such as glaucoma and cancer spent $215 million last year on marijuana products. Arizona’s public health officials awarded most licenses based on rules designed to place new dispensaries within range of the greatest number of medical-marijuana patients. But when it wasn’t clear which applicant was in the most patient-dense area, they used a lottery to randomly select the winners, hoping to sidestep conflict.

States have struggled with how to give out potentially lucrative medical marijuana licenses — trying to balance public health concerns against an entrepreneurial spirit and avoid a bevy of lawsuits. Many want to ensure the businesses are well run and are supplying quality products. But even in states like Arizona where dispensaries are required to be nonprofits, competition for licenses can lead to a gold rush mentality and lawsuits as entrepreneurs eye a medical marijuana industry with $4.2 billion in sales in 2014.

Read more at National Public Radio.