If Jeff Sessions is fired or resigns from his role as Attorney General, as has been widely speculated in recent days, the cannabis industry may have unexpected reason to celebrate: Ted Cruz. President Trump is rumored to be considering Mr. Cruz as Mr. Sessions's replacement. Regardless of what you might think of bases for the current imbroglio that Mr. Sessions and President Trump are entangled in, there is no question that Mr. Sessions is among the politicians most openly antagonistic to the legal cannabis industry. While Mr. Cruz may not be much more popular with legal cannabis advocates than Mr. Sessions, the Texas Senator poses far less of an existential threat to the legal cannabis markets operating in a majority of states throughout the country.
Mr. Sessions has been outspoken in his antipathy toward cannabis, promoting the long-debunked "gateway drug" theory, comparing marijuana to heroin, forming a task force to evaluate existing (hands-off) federal policy, and penning a letter to Congress in May that calls for an end to the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which strips the Justice Department of the authority to expend resources on the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act against medical marijuana businesses operating legally under state laws. All of this has industry insiders concerned about the potential that federal raids may soon return to a dispensary near you.
In contrast, Mr. Cruz has espoused quite moderate views on the enforcement of federal restrictions on cannabis. Mr. Cruz stated on the campaign trail that, while he personally did not support legalization of marijuana, "it is the prerogative of the states to make that determination." Cruz referenced Justice Louis Brandeis's concept of "laboratories of democracy" in opining that voters of a given state have a constitutional right to self-determination on this issue. This kind of fresh perspective out of the Attorney General's office would be music to the cannabis industry's ears.
While President Trump has signaled less acceptance of legalized cannabis, his tenure thus far has reflected a hands-off leadership approach unless you raise his ire. Additionally, Mr. Trump has not done anything to suggest that this issue is of great import to him. In combination, the facts above suggest that an Attorney General Cruz would have wide latitude to enforce federal drug laws--or not--as he sees fit.
Before cultivators and dispensary owners begin mobilizing against Mr. Sessions, however, they should keep in mind that another name frequently mentioned as a possible successor is Rudy Giuliani, an opponent of even medical marijuana legalization, who rejects the medicinal benefits of cannabis and who, as mayor of New York, led a "zero tolerance" crackdown against marijuana users that resulted in nearly two hundred thousand arrests over the course of his tenure. Thus, the industry is faced with something with which it is all to familiar: uncertainty.