Colorado's marijuana industry could take a big hit under a Trump administration

Colorado's marijuana industry could take a big hit under a Trump administration
Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

The Ku Klux Klan ''were OK until I found out they smoked pot." 

Those were the words of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump's pick for attorney general

Though Sessions later apologized for the statement — which he characterized as a poorly conceived joke — those in the cannabis business are worried about what he would do to the $6.7 billion industry as attorney general.

This is of particular concern in Colorado, one of eight states where marijuana is legal for medical and recreational use.

Source: Graphiq

By some estimates, in 2015, the marijuana industry in Colorado alone saw nearly $1 billion in sales, produced $2.4 billion in associated economic activity and created 18,000 new jobs. So a crackdown on cannabis would have major economic implications for the state.

Colorado was a trailblazer in the matter, becoming in 2012 — along with Washington — one of the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana, putting the states at strict odds with federal law, which classifies it as a Schedule I drug.

This classification is reserved for "drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Employees at marijuana dispensary The Station in Boulder, Colorado
Source: Brennan Linsley/AP

Ultimately, the issue resolved itself with a memo from the Department of Justice, which essentially urged United States attorneys across the country not to prosecute those who acted in accordance with state laws on marijuana. In the intervening time, the issue was put to bed — but the federal law was never technically changed.

And this leaves the legal standing of cannabis particularly vulnerable. 

"Without any protection from Congress, every marijuana grower and dispensary owner who came out of the shadows to become a taxpaying member of the legal recreational cannabis industry in Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and Alaska has exposed himself to potential criminal prosecution by a DOJ run by Sessions," Politico reports.

At an April hearing on legalizing cannabis, Sessions warned of failing efforts "to send that message with clarity that good people don't smoke marijuana," U.S. News & World Report reported. 

He continued: "The result of that, to give that away and make it socially acceptable, creates demand and results in people being addicted or impacted aversely."