US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has gotten to work on clarifying the US Department of Justice’s posture on legal marijuana. The move couldn’t come sooner for the commercial real estate industry supporting this growing sector of the economy.
The enforcement of federal marijuana laws in the face of legalization by 29 states is of considerable concern to commercial real estate markets; based on the latest wave of state legislation passed, nearly 1 in 5 Americans now have access to state-legal marijuana, a figure that encompasses a whopping 68 million people.
In legalized states — and in the states expected to vote in favor of legalizing — the commercial real estate industry is on the march with sourcing and developing the industrial, land and retail property types that support and house the growing, distribution and dispensary needs of the legal marijuana business. But the road has gotten bumpy since the 2016 election.
A perpetual challenge to smooth real estate investment and to property sourcing is market uncertainty, and the Trump administration has been doing the legal marijuana industry no favors on that score. Since his confirmation as AG, Sessions, who as recently as April 2016 made the statement that marijuana users aren’t “good people”, has introduced quite a bit of national uncertainty into the legal marijuana business. First pointing to Congress as the responsible party for a final decision, Sessions this week got a memo out to 94 US Attorney’s offices and DOJ heads that appears to take greater ownership of the impasse in legal marijuana enforcement.
The memo (read the full memo here) addresses a newly created Task Force of Crime Reduction and Public Safety and tasks them with the following:
Task Force subcommittees will also undertake a review of existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana to ensure consistency with the Department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with Administration goals and priorities. Another subcommittee will explore our use of asset forfeiture and make recommendations on any improvements needed to legal authorities, policies, and training to most effectively attack the financial infrastructure of criminal organizations.
Gone is any mention of Congress, and the singling out of marijuana in a sentence concerning itself with consistency reads (to these eyes, anyway) as a signal that the AG is looking for ideas from his bureaucracy. If I had to guess, at least some of the feedback Sessions receives will mention in no uncertain terms that violent crime and the legal marijuana business are distinctly different phenomena in at least 29 states of the union.
The deadline for response from the memo recipients is July 27th of this year.