Thursday’s decision by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind the Obama-era Justice Department’s “Cole Memo” sent the cannabis industry reeling. Stocks on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border took on massive losses as chaos infected the marijuana markets. Still, reactions from industry insiders and experts alike were decidedly mixed, ranging from uncertainty to confidence.
Speaking to Vice Money, cannabis investment advisor and founder of Toronto-based Stoic Advisory Inc. Aaron Salz expressed mixed emotion upon hearing the news. The marijuana financial guru lamented the effect Sessions’ decision would have on the industry’s perception as a whole but noted his relief that the Justice Department’s prosecutorial power stops at the Canadian border.
“I don’t want to be out there cheerleading this policy because it’s a net negative for the cannabis industry in general, but from a purely selfish Canadian perspective, it just prolongs the head start that we have,” Salz told Vice Money.
“Historically [U.S. companies] haven't been competitive because they can’t be. They can’t go into these markets,” he continued. “So you see a policy like this and it kicks them back a notch. Our head start of a couple of years now turns into three or four, longer than we expected.”
Outspoken Executive Vice President of Aurora Cannabis (TSX:ACB) Cam Battley, who made headlines recently for calling rival CanniMed Therapeutics’ dealings “bizarre,” held a similar outlook.
In the same interview with Vice Money, Battley was quoted as saying, “We’ll see a prolonging of the social harms associated with cannabis prohibition. And we can anticipate at least in the short-term that this could hinder U.S. cannabis [businesses].”
U.S. companies took a more defiant tone in the face of the news. In an interview with CNN on Thursday Golden Leaf Holdings (CNSX:GLH) CEO William Simpson said his company would continue with business as usual. Golden Leaf has dispensaries and farms in both Oregon and Nevada.
"We are pushing full force forward," he told CNN in an interview.
Marc Lustig, CEO of CannaRoyalty (CNSX:CRZ) was even more straightforward in his assessment of the situation. In an interview with BNN on Thursday, he argued that the industry is far too enmeshed in mainstream business and mainstream culture for the Justice Department to dial things back now.
“This thing is too big a business, in the USA legal cannabis sales will outpace beer sales,” Lustig told BNN. “Not much can impede the momentum of this sector.”
Some companies took to Twitter to voice their displeasure with Sessions, as well as to call on consumers to contact their local legislators. Terra Tech Corp. (OTCMKTS:TRTC), who saw share prices fall 30 percent by mid-afternoon on Thursday following the announcement, highlighted the news while telling followers “Let your voices be heard…”
MassRoots (OTCMKTS:MSRT), never one to shy away from controversy, spent the day retweeting various quotes from lawmakers such as Bernie Sanders and Cory Gardner. At one point the cannabis social media company retweeted the Colorado Senate Dems while merely posting the hashtag #STOPSESSIONS.
Still, until federal prosecutors take their first steps under the new landscape, no one knows what to expect. For now, the industry waits patiently, hoping that public perception stays on their side.