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Uncertainty Looms For Marijuana Industry

Associated Press

Marijuana advocates in the state got to breathe a sigh of relief on Election Day, but the respite was short-lived.

Donald Trump was elected president, and the person he wants to put in charge of the Justice Department has made his views very clear.

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions has publicly decried the use of marijuana, even saying that "good people don't smoke marijuana" on the Senate floor in April. 

Nevada was one of eight states which voted to legalize recreational marijuana. 

With marijuana businesses trying to prepare for legalized recreational marijuana on Jan. 1, they may also have to worry about a federal crackdown.

John Hudak, with the Brookings Institution, has focused his research on state and federal marijuana policy. 

He told KNPR's State of Nevada that currently the federal government is taking a hands off approach to states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

However, it would very easy to revoke what is known as the Cole Memo. 

“That enforcement action, or really inaction, from the federal government exists not because of a law but because of a memorandum issued by the Department of Justice," he said, "That memorandum can be pulled at any time by this administration or by the Trump administration or any future administration.”

Hudak said President-elect Trump could direct his attorney general to crackdown on legalized marijuana, or leave the whole operation alone. But he said Trump's stance on marijuana has been murky.

“Right now, we just don’t know," he said, "I think people are hesitant to take the president-elect at his word and because of that I think this will be a true test of how serious the Republican Party is about respecting states’ rights and choices and liberties over one’s own body.”

If the federal government under the Trump administration does decide to crackdown on legalized marijuana, Hudak said there are several ways they could do it from cutting off federal funding to states who approve it to interferring with licensing of businesses.

But again, Hudak said he really has no idea what Donald Trump or the people in his administration will do.

“Trying to predict this administration, I think, is as dangerous as trying to predict the outcome of the election,” he said. 

But he believes if Jeff Sessions is confirmed as the Attorney General of the United States it could hurt the industry.

“If he is left to his own devices, it will pose an existential threat for this industry and for this movement,” he said.

Hudak said most people, including President-elect Trump and Session, don't realize how much the industry has grown since recreational and medical marijuana were first legalized. 

“I think while the president elect and others understand the number of states that are engaged in this space they don’t full appreciate the number of operators and the number of dollars either,” he said.


John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management, Brookings Institution 

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Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.
Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.