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Jeff Sessions Launches Battle Against Booming Las Vegas Cannabis Industry

Attorney General To End DoJ Policy Not To Prosecute Marijuana Industry


U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions backed off his opposition to regulated online poker sites, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to deal a blow to the Las Vegas economy.

On Thursday, reports said that the Alabama Republican will end the Obama-era policy that helped pave the way for states to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana sales. The soon-to-be defunct policy called for federal prosecutors in states with legal weed to deprioritize prosecution of cases related to the plant. Marijuana has for decades been considered a controlled substance by the feds.

It’s not clear how rolling back the so-called Cole Memo, which was penned in 2013 by then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole, will be implemented. However, the move presumably will give federal prosecutors discretion to go after those in the industry.

Sessions’ decision came just days after California, a state that consistently has had friction with the Trump Administration, kicked off recreational sales.

Las Vegas, one of the top tourist destinations in the world, debuted recreational marijuana sales just last July. The sales were massive in the first month, as more than $27 million worth of pot was sold statewide, dwarfing initial sales in states like Colorado and Oregon.

Legal marijuana spend in the U.S. in 2016 grew 30 percent year-over-year to $6.7 billion, and sales could reach $30 billion by 2021, according to industry estimations.

Business Insider reported that cannabis-related stocks got slammed after news of Sessions’ decision, falling as much as 35 percent.

The massive market potential has drawn the attention of Nevada gaming regulators and other top state government officials. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval reconvened the Nevada Gaming Policy Committee in late November to talk about the industry. Silver State officials said they were still concerned about the federal government’s position on the plant, which means that gaming companies have been barred from involvement in the space. The state Gaming Control Board also banned use of the plant by casino patrons.

Sandoval said the committee will meet again early in 2018 to deliberate further on issues such as cannabis-industry conventions at casino complexes. The move by Sessions will surely be brought up. Nevada voters approved recreational marijuana in November 2016.

It’s worth noting that the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether to strike down the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, an anti-states’ rights law that banned traditional sports betting outside of Nevada. At least one legal expert believes that case will also impact the pot industry, potentially bolstering a state’s ability to continue with the cannabis trade.