State licensed cannabis business owners have yet another problem to face: a new Jeff Sessions’ memo.
The document by the Attorney General urges district attorneys to sentence big-time drug dealers with the death penalty. This could be dangerous as the memorandum includes legal business owners who sell marijuana or marijuana-infused merchandise.
Last week, Sessions sent this memo to the federal prosecutors pushing them to seek capital punishment in the charges that involve drug traffickers, dealers, and peddlers who are operating a large scale business. It points to a little-known federal legislation rule that permits for such sanction.
The memo relates more so to opioids, but this national law does not contain any drug-specific limits on the powers of the prosecutors.
If one will go back and follow the complex history of this law through federal decrees, you will unearth and discover that anyone declared guilty of owning and cultivating more than 60,000 cannabis plants or owning 60,000 kilos worth of cannabis-infused materials or products could receive the death penalty.
After releasing the memorandum, a lot of people in the marijuana industry got concerned and started to worry. They assumed that this was the Attorney General’s way of giving the green light to prosecutors in handing out the death sentence to the country’s biggest marijuana entrepreneurs.
Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver said that it was very theoretical. Kamin, who specializes in cannabis cases and in death penalty said that he doesn’t think that federal government would be going after state-licensed companies. But he also added that it emphasizes an immense difference of the federal to the state statutes.
National Cannabis Industry Association’s executive director, Aaron Smith, likewise said that the memo was a bluster. Smith believes that the probability of an execution against the moguls of the cannabis industry is very low, even if it is possible under federal decrees.
Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post was one of the first to see the potential impact of Sessions’ latest memo on legal cannabis entrepreneurs:
If I’m reading the statutes correctly, this means an aggressive federal prosecutor could theoretically seek the death penalty for state-legal marijuana business operators growing 60,000 or more plants, or producing 60,000 kilos of product (edibles, etc) containing marijuana https://t.co/eSeGp6a3Fe
— Christopher Ingraham (@_cingraham) March 21, 2018
Smith and Kamin are actually familiar with the subtle complexity of this law and its capital punishment provisions. They even questioned if the memo can hold up under a challenge from the Supreme Court.
The law experts said that the key to this law is the volume of the cannabis plants the business is cultivating. 60,000 is twice what is needed for the federal plaintiffs to sentence lifetime imprisonment.
In Colorado, businesses are keeping the metrics of their operations private especially in terms of the quantity of the plants they own. State regulators show their support to these ventures by not giving out the data of the businesses.
Smith said there were many operations with more than 60,000 cannabis plants in their warehouse when he was asked in his interview.
On June 2017, they counted nearly a million cannabis plants being cultivated by the state-licensed marijuana businesses in the state.
Meanwhile, in California, one of their biggest cannabis dispensaries is set to build a farm which plans to house more than 100,000 cannabis plants at a time. Smith said the sales from the businesses push the business to satiate the demand of the growing market.
The executive director of Colorado-based Marijuana Industry Group, Kristi Kelly, claimed that her group has been keen on keeping their eyes open on the policy shifts done by Sessions.
Although the Attorney General has called back some of the more explicit protection for the marijuana companies that operate in compliance with the laws of their state, the judgment is still mostly up to the U.S. lawyers’ discretion. It is up to them if they decide if they would file charges against these businesses.
Kelly believes that it still means that businesses should carry on following the laws of their state in good faith. She suggests that they should not panic.