Tuesday’s election will have major short- and long-term effects on marijuana policy. In the immediate sense, Michigan became the 10th state to legalize marijuana for adults, while successful ballot measures in Missouri and Utah brings the total number of states with medical marijuana laws on the books to 33. Numerous pro-legalization candidates were also elected to governorships and to Congress, and the two most anti-marijuana Representatives will not be returning to the House in 2019.
But one of the biggest changes—and perhaps the one with the most significant long-term impacts for the entire industry—came the day after the election, when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned at the request of President Trump.
With Sessions gone, the table has been cleared for Trump to select a new Attorney General—that could be either very good or very bad for the cannabis industry. Despite the uncertainty, however, there’s still reason to be hopeful.
Not surprisingly, given Sessions’ outspoken and outdated prohibitionist views (he infamously said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana”), cannabis stocks immediately rallied late on Wednesday as investors saw his ouster as a good sign for the industry. However, most cannabis stocks had fallen back to prior levels by the time markets closed on Thursday as investors likely realized that sometimes you’re better off with the devil you know than the one you don’t.
But investors were right to see this as a good sign. While in office, Sessions tried his best to roll back progress on marijuana reform, including revoking the Cole Memo that had restrained the Department of Justice from interfering in states’ marijuana programs. Luckily, that was the worst Sessions was able to do, as his conflict with President Trump over the Mueller investigation made him much less effective. While Trump publicly disagreed with Sessions on marijuana policy, saying states should be able to set their own policies, their disagreement over the Russia investigation was seemingly the impetus for Sessions’ firing.