“You have to legalise drugs to win that war,” now-US President Donald Trump argued more than 25 years ago, suggesting that the key to victory was undercutting drug kingpins’ profits.
Decades later, legalisation of marijuana in the US has made vast advances, creating a booming market that has attracted investors and entrepreneurs.
But the real estate mogul’s previous views notwithstanding, the industry has reason to fear him as a US president.
The principal reason is his justice minister, arch-conservative Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The law–and-order hardliner made his views clear in a 2015 congressional hearing: “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
His opinion on the subject is crucial, because although half of US states have legalised marijuana to some extent – most often for medical use – federal law still prohibits it.
The legal marijuana industry has seen tremendous growth in recent years, due in large part to the administration of former president Barack Obama’s official policy to stay out of state’s plans for it. Sessions, however, could pursue a different tack.
In confirmation hearings before the Senate he gave no indications of whether his plans might differ from his predecessor’s laissez-faire approach.
Trump’s attitude seems to have changed as well. During last year’s election campaign, he spoke of a “real problem” in Colorado – whose legalization of marijuana for recreational use gave it a reason beyond its Rocky Mountain altitude for its nickname, “The Highest State.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said recently that he expects “greater enforcement” of federal marijuana laws by federal authorities.
Despite the uncertainty, the nascent industry professes confidence.
“I think the likelihood of the Trump administration cracking down hard on cannabis businesses is very low,” Troy Dayton, head of the Arcview Group, a large investor and market research group focusing on the industry, told dpa.
Sessions may have some “ridiculous” views, Dayton said, noting that the attorney general said marijuana was “only slightly less awful than heroin.”
But the “canna-business” guru does not see danger ahead for the ongoing marijuana boom, in part because the US population is behind it. Opinion polls show high levels of support for marijuana legalization – even from Trump voters.
“The cannabis industry is bringing jobs and tax dollars. I just don’t see how going after state-legal cannabis can makes sense politically,” Dayton said. “That being said, anything is possible with this administration, so it is a risk.”
Investors in the industry appear more nervous about Trump’s ascent, as evidenced by the Marijuana Stock Index (WEED), which since 2015 has tracked the performance of listed cannabis companies.
While over the course of the past year the index has been firmly in the black, in the last few months it has shown signs of strain.
But experts rate the sector’s business outlook as good despite the risks under Trump, with rapid and explosive market growth through ongoing legalization in California and Canada.
The sale of “grass” – dried marijuana plant matter – is now only one part of a product sector that ranges from marijuana e-cigarettes to drinks and biscuits, from pills and ointments to sedatives and appetite stimulants.
The sector’s investors include big names like rap star Snoop Dogg, the heirs of reggae superstar Bob Marley and well-known Silicon Valley investors including billionaire Peter Thiel.
North American sales of legal marijuana products reached 6.7 billion dollars in 2016, according to an Arcview analysis, an increase of 34 per cent year-on-year.
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