How will Trump’s election affect Oregon’s pot industry?

“People are holding their breath”

Marijuana plants are seen nearly ready for harvest at a cultivation center. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
Marijuana plants are seen nearly ready for harvest at a cultivation center. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Oregon’s burgeoning marijuana industry could face a significant threat under President-Elect Donald Trump’s administration.

While Trump has said he would leave legalization for states to decide, the New York tycoon appeared poised Wednesday to appoint New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to his cabinet, according to the Washington Post.

Christie’s potential appointment to the Department of Justice would fly in the face of respecting states’ rights to choose legal marijuana, said Amy Margolis, an attorney and advocate for Oregon’s recreational marijuana industry.

“People are holding their breath,” Margolis said of Oregon marijuana business owners.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media partner.

Christie has said he would enforce the federal prohibition on cannabis and prosecute recreational marijuana users, according to multiple media reports.

Oregon’s and other states’ marijuana programs now operate under the grace of the Obama administration’s 2013 “Cole memo.” The memorandum by then-U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole allows states to operate the programs without federal interference provided that the states maintain a robust regulatory system to keep pot out the hands of minors and the illicit market.

If the Trump administration were to withdraw the memorandum, recreational marijuana businesses and customers could be subject to prosecution.

Federal legislation has barred the federal government from spending money to shut down or hamper state medical marijuana programs, and a U.S. Appeals Court in August ruled that federal agencies may not prosecute people for growing or distributing medical marijuana if they are following state laws.

Withdrawing the Cole memo would still have a chilling effect on Oregon’s recreational marijuana industry and the investment and jobs created by legalization, Margolis said. Prosecuting recreational marijuana businesses also could impact the state’s revenue stream. The state has collected more than $40 million in recreational marijuana tax revenue since January, according to the Oregon Department of Revenue. That represents an industry making more than $160.8 million in sales between January and September.

But Margolis said she thinks it’s unlikely that the Trump administration would withdraw the memo because of increasing support for legalization.

Voters in New York, Maine, Massachusetts and California approved recreational marijuana Nov. 8. and several other states, including Florida, approved medical marijuana.

Marijuana legalization has broad and bipartisan support, said Mark Pettinger, spokesman for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates recreational marijuana.

But because the Obama administration did not lift marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug, there still is potential for enforcement, Margolis said.

If the Trump administration were to prosecute the marijuana industry, states could attempt to sue the federal government to allow them to operate state programs, Margolis said.

The liquor control commission plans to continue to follow the Cole memo until further notice, Pettinger said.

“There is not much we can react to when we don’t know what position the Trump administration will take,” Pettinger said.