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Cannabis Industry Cheers Sessions' Departure at DOJ

Leaders of the burgeoning cannabis industry on Wednesday applauded the departure of Attorney General Jeff Session from the Department of Justice, saying Sessions has hindered the growth of the billion-dollar industry.

Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, a cannabis-focused agriculture company, said in a press release that Sessions "has been an impediment to the growth of the regulated cannabis industry." He said the industry is right now at a tipping point nationally as far as voters and lawmakers are concerned. "With [Texas Senator] Pete Sessions being voted out and Jeff Sessions resigning, the corridor is now open to accelerate a states rights approach to regulating the cannabis industry.”

For the uninitiated, cannabis plants contain mind-altering THC, the ingredient that puts the buzz in marijuana, which is derived from the plant.

"We believe it's increasingly likely Congress could take action to regulate and tax cannabis at the federal level," Isaac Dietrich, CEO of MassRoots, said in an email.

Indeed, cannabis stocks rallied on Wednesday after the announcement that Sessions would be departing the DOJ.

Now that Sessions has resigned, Dietrich said he expects "the perceived risks related to the cannabis industry to continue to dissipate, which could lead to a shift of institutional capital and interest from Canadian licensed producers to companies focused on the regulated United States market."

And, in fact, marijuana proponents were elated that major cannabis ballot measures passed in Michigan and Missouri on Tuesday, indicating an increased acceptance of the drug. In Michigan, the approval of the ballot issue means that recreational cannabis will be legalized; Missourans voted to legalize medical marijuana. Michigan joins eight states and the District of Columbia in allowing recreational use; a host of other states allow medical marijuana.

Commenting on the trend to legalize marijuana, the FDA warned in January, "It is important to conduct medical research into the safety and effectiveness of marijuana products," which are not currently regulated by the FDA. The agency said that "adequate and well-controlled clinical trials" are needed to ensure its safety.

Sessions said at his confirmation hearing that he does not believe marijuana should be legalized. “We need grownups in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it is, in fact, a very real danger,” he said. If it is made legal, Sessions predicted, "You’ll see cocaine and heroin increase more than it would have, I think, had we not talked about it.”

The Sessions-led Department of Justice issued guidance earlier this year making it easier for U.S. prosecutors to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that had legalized it. Sessions rescinded guidance by the Obama administration discouraging enforcement of the laws. In a press release announcing the directive, the DOJ said that Sessions "directs all U.S. Attorneys to enforce the laws enacted by Congress and to follow well-established principles when pursuing prosecutions related to marijuana activities." According to the DOJ, "This return to the rule of law is also a return of trust and local control to federal prosecutors who know where and how to deploy Justice Department resources most effectively to reduce violent crime, stem the tide of the drug crisis, and dismantle criminal gangs."

Neuroscientist Judith Grisel warned in an op-ed at the Washington Post about rushing to legalize marijuana. "The debate around legalization — which often focuses on the history of racist drug laws and their selective enforcement — is astoundingly naive about how the widespread use of pot will affect communities and individuals, particularly teenagers," she said.

"Like any mind-altering substance, marijuana produces its effects by changing the rate of what is already going on in the brain," said Grisel. "In this case, the active ingredient delta-9-THC substitutes for your own natural endocannabinoids and mimics their effects. It activates the same chemical processes the brain employs to modulate thoughts, emotions and experiences."

Marijuana use dampens the brain's "intrinsic machinery to compensate for excessive stimulation," she said. "Chronic exposure ultimately impairs our ability to imbue value or importance to experiences that truly warrant it."

In adults, according to Grisel, this could derail "a successful and otherwise fulfilling life," though she noted that the effects could likely be reversed by abstaining from pot use. But the effects are more profound — and possibly even permanent — for teens. "Adolescence is a critical period of development, when brain cells are primed to undergo significant organizational changes: Some neural connections are proliferating and strengthening, while others are pared away," she said.

Sessions, speaking to a group of law enforcement officers last year, said, "I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana—so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful." He added, "Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life."

On learning that Sessions had resigned, Dustin Iannotti, co-founder and chief creative officer of Artisans on Fire, took a personal swipe at the former attorney general. "Jeff Sessions once said, 'Good people don't smoke marijuana.' I say, 'Good people aren't forced to resign from their job.' Sessions has been an earache to the cannabis industry since he took his position in Washington, and I think I speak for the industry when I say his resignation is long overdue and widely applauded," he said.

Jeffrey M. Zucker, president of Green Lion Partners, also got personal, calling sessions "ignorant" and saying his departure was a "win for social justice and equality to have this close-minded individual out of such an impactful office."