During his confirmation hearing yesterday on Capitol Hill, prospective US Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent an ambiguous message to the real estate developers, property owners and lenders working to expand legal marijuana business in states that allow it. Pressed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on the topic of enforcement of federal law prohibiting marijuana in those states, Sessions responded with a bit of safe boilerplate before pointing to Congress:
“Using good judgment on how to handle these cases will be a responsibility of mine. I know it won’t be an easy decision but I will try to do my duty in a fair and just way.”
He added: “One obvious concern is the United States Congress has made the possession in every state and distribution an illegal act. If that’s something that’s not desired any longer Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It is not the Attorney General’s job to decide what laws to enforce.”
Banks, developers, investors looking for guidance on legal marijuana
The commercial real estate implications of Sessions’ dodge are significant. A growing legal marijuana industry and the real estate professionals that serve it await clear leadership on the issue as sales figures are jumping by double digits in year-over-year measures. The hunt has been on for property and legal stability for dispensary developers in a growing number of states that have adopted legalization measures, from the 28 states that have legalized medical marijuana to the eleven now legalizing recreational use. Traditional capital sources such as banks have been shy to lend and serve the industry under conditions that leave open the possibility of federal action closing the enterprises due to cannabis remaining illegal at the federal level.
As the business of legal marijuana waits for clarity from Washington, it appears the wait will go on.
States that have legalized weed
As of November 2016’s election, these seven states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use:
Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Washington D.C.
And these states have some form of legalized medical marijuana:
Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Deleware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Missisippi, Missouri, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.