A few hours after the news broke on Thursday morning, the executive director of an Arizona cannabis advocacy organization was in his car, en route to an emergency meeting of sorts. He and several lawyers and marijuana business leaders were frantically poring over how a sudden right turn in federal policy was going to affect them.
“I don’t want to be super-alarmist, but this is very alarming,” said Mikel Weisser, the head of Arizona NORML, which advocates for legal marijuana. Weisser also works in a dispensary in Phoenix: “The news hit us like a bomb,” he said.
Weisser said that he’s been reassured by others that medical marijuana is too big to undo nationally. But in a Republican-dominated state like Arizona, he’s worried that the prosecutorial mentality here will be harsh on cannabis users after Sessions’ decision. Rescinding the Obama-era memo unleashes attorneys to aggressively enforce federal marijuana law, if they so choose.
“Maricopa County, Yavapai County — the prosecuting attorneys in those two counties are among the nation’s most rabid prohibitionists,” Weisser said. “So I have grave concern about the health and safety of people in the medical marijuana industry.”
One person who is probably over the moon at the news is Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. An anti-pot crusader, Montgomery recently was dealt a blow by the Arizona Supreme Court when the court denied his petition for review of his case against legal medical marijuana in Maricopa County. Voters approved the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act in 2010. Montgomery argues that the successful ballot measure violates federal law and the county should ignore it.
Montgomery’s office declined to comment on Thursday.
Demetri Downing of the Marijuana Industry Trade Association said that they don’t know exactly what Sessions is going to do, and it would be premature to think that it’s the end of medical marijuana in Arizona. But nevertheless, Thursday’s report creates uncertainty in an industry that employs 3,000 people here.
“It’s not a good sign,” he said. “It means that Trump is somehow allowing his subordinates to go after marijuana in some capacity. Limited as it is, it still sends a message that ending prohibition isn’t the right path.”