Cannabis lawyerThe confirmation hearing for Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee to serve as the U.S. Attorney General, begins this morning at 9:30 a.m. ET. You can view the live feed here. Sessions is opposed by civil rights groups and championed by law enforcement, which, together, signal poorly for marijuana. On the specific issue of federal marijuana prohibition, we wrote on his nomination day that the Senator has been hostile to marijuana for a long time.

If each member of the Senate Judiciary Committee votes with his or her party, Sessions will pass by a vote of 11 to 9. That seems likely, as there have been no reported signs that any Republicans will defect, either in the committee or on the Senate floor. Still, Democrats have the opportunity to ask some tough questions on a variety of topics. It is our sincere hope that somebody takes the opportunity to drill down from civil rights to marijuana legalization, and specifically, to enforcement of the Federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

As it stands, a hostile, Sessions-led Department of Justice (DOJ) could attempt to kneecap marijuana policy reform nationwide. Its options would include everything from suing states to block implementation of marijuana programs, to leveraging the CSA’s asset forfeiture provisions against pot businesses and related parties. These actions would likely be massively unpopular, but they would be well within the power of a hostile administration – even one that ostensibly supports limited government and states’ rights.

Fortunately, there is a bipartisan majority in each chamber of Congress that appears interested in seeing states, and not federal law enforcement, lead on the issue of cannabis legalization. If Congress continues to prohibit the DOJ from chasing state medical marijuana actors, it may be hard for Sessions to keep the jails as full as he would like. There is also a possibility that as much as Sessions dislikes pot, he may have other priorities, at least to start.

As of today, there is probably more uncertainty than at any point in the past few years with respect to enforcement of federal prohibition. Anyone interested in federal marijuana policy would be well served to tune into today’s hearings, and to closely monitor the hearings of other Trump nominees like Georgia Rep. Tom Price, who has been nominated to serve as Secretary for Health and Human Services (and also has a very poor record on pot). Mr. Price is set for hearing next week.

Stay tuned.

Oregon cannabis testing lawsLast week, at the request of Governor Kate Brown and in collaboration with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) issued yet another set of temporary rules for Oregon marijuana. The rules, which apply to both the medical and recreational programs, do three notable things:

  • relax certain potency testing requirements for processors;
  • remove the prohibition on certain solvents (butanol, propanol and ethanol); and
  • allow producers (growers) to test multiple strains of flower in a single batch.

The rules took effect immediately, and remain valid through May 30, 2017. For a comprehensive summary, go here.

Oregon has the toughest pot testing requirements in the country, and that hasn’t changed. By way of comparison, a recent study found that most California weed would fail under Oregon’s rigorous testing standards. These new, temporary rules still contain robust concentration limits and a sweeping ban on pesticides. Although many pot merchants were hoping for more, they will have to adapt; the state has held the line.

We recently touched on the perfect storm created by the tough testing rules and laboratory bottleneck, and we wrote that the rollout of a state cannabis program is an uneven course. We have also commended the state at various points for collaborating with industry stakeholders and making adjustments on the fly. We admire the commitment to public health in Oregon, but only time will tell if these rules have given pot businesses room enough to breathe.

Going forward, we predict strong revenue opportunities for processors who can get their product through, particularly after January 1, when only OLCC licensees will be able to sell into the recreational market. Today, the testing strictures and a shortage of licensed processors in general have caused shelves to thin out in certain dispensaries around the state. Some retailers stockpiled processed products prior to the October 1 testing deadline, but that inventory is fleeting.

We expect the legislature to take a close look at the testing rules when it meets again in February, especially if these administrative tweaks do not fully right the ship. By February, a greater number of OLCC licensees will have entered the system, which in turn will give a fuller picture as to how these rules are working. For now, if you ingest any state-sanctioned cannabis in Oregon, it is going to be clean.