"Do not be discouraged by what the federal government is doing," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "It does not close all the doors to moving forward, and there is such momentum around this issue that we are going to continue to move forward."
A primary concern for the day was President-Elect Trump's pick for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. Sessions, a longtime anti-marijuana crusader who has said "good people don't smoke marijuana," could ignore the Cole and Ogden memos, which reprioritize the federal enforcement of marijuana laws to a more hands-off approach in states where it is medically or recreationally legal.
Should Sessions operate outside the Cole and Ogden memos' direction, the legal marijuana industry could face renewed federal raids and prosecution — occurrences that became less of a federal priority under the Obama Administration with Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.
As Jim Thorburn of Thorburn Walker LLC, which helps dispensaries navigate legal obstacles, indicated, however, both Trump and Sessions have held a past preference for states' rights. As a result, the marijuana industry could be left alone to grow — especially considering that two Trump leaning states, Florida and Ohio, have passed medical marijuana legislation.
"Is he going to allow the federal government to move forward against the states that elected him? I don't think he will," Thorburn said. "I don't think he's that stupid."
Trump, for his part, has not made marijuana enforcement a primary platform for his presidency. However, the President-elect has previously called for the legalization of all drugs, saying in 1990 that "you have to legalize drugs" to win the War on Drugs. He also told Fox News earlier this year that he is "a hundred percent" in favor of medical marijuana, but opposes outright legalization. In 2015, he said at a primary debate that marijuana legalization "should be a state issue."
Evan Nison, who sits on the Board of Directors at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, meanwhile, said that despite the Trump Administration's apparent preference for states' rights, messaging still remains important.
"If we go out and say what we feel — which is that Sessions may be the worst thing to happen to the industry in recent memory — it makes it easier for him to go out and do those raids," Nison said. "It's important for us to put out the message that we think that they're going to be good on their word that they're going to respect states' rights."
Over the next four years in the marijuana industry, panelists said the messengers will also be extremely important, with consultant Troy Kaplan noting that "standing in a circle smoking joints outside the White House" will likely only exacerbate the issue on a federal level.
"We need people with the correct message," he said.
Ultimately, it would seem that the Trump Administration may be focusing their attention elsewhere away from marijuana, as panel moderator Deborah Miran, a former member of the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, pointed out.