Marijuana stocks closed mixed on Wednesday after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly admitted an openness to researching the potential benefits of medical marijuana to a key Senate panel. The same day, the North American Marijuana Index also flattened, falling 1.70 points (0.69%) to end the day at 245.86.
Attorney General Sessions shows signs of budging in his opposition toward cannabis, potentially giving marijuana stocks a sliver of hope for future progress.
Known for his hard oppositional stance toward cannabis, Sessions surprised the industry with his concession that MMJ may, after all, have benefits and that it should be researched. The attorney general, however, continues to dismiss mounting evidence that points to the benefits of cannabis in minimizing the opioid epidemic; his belief is that legal access to cannabis wouldn’t be a sustainable measure for reducing opioid issues long term.
Sessions acknowledged having seen some research that links a lower numbers of deaths from overdose to states where cannabis is legal in some form, stating “science is important,” however, he still doesn’t “believe that will be sustained in the long run.”
In medical marijuana news, Sessions’ implied in his statements that the industry could expect more MMJ licenses for the purposes of research.
His indication was that the federal government had plans in the near future to provide more licenses for entities to legally cultivate cannabis for research – or at least, take steps in that direction.
Sessions’ words to the Senate Appropriations Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee were, “We are moving forward and we will add fairly soon, I believe, the paperwork and reviews will be completed and we will add additional suppliers of marijuana under the controlled circumstances,”
A policy was introduced back in 2016 by the Drug Enforcement Administration, enacted with the intention of licensing more cultivators for MMJ research.
Since then, the agency reports having received no less than 25 applications from entities wishing to participate in the program, however, has not responded to any of them yet. The reason for this, per the Washington Post, is that top officials in the Justice Department have intervened to stave off approvals of proposals by the DEA.
During Sessions’ appearance, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) questioned him on his stance, stating “we’re all evolving on this issue, some quicker than others.” The senator added that there are “good civil rights reasons for decriminalizing and pursuing a federalist approach around this.”
In response, Sessions expressed concern over the U.S. being at greater risk for international drug treaty violations if they were to open up an MMJ research program. He said the “treaty requires certain controls in that process,” adding his opinion that the “previous proposal violated that treaty.” He did not, however, provide specifics in the form of a timeline for when a revision of the research cultivation approval process would be released.
While it’s good news for MMJ stocks that Sessions now acknowledges some of the medical potential of cannabis, he continues to take issue with the manner in which the drug is consumed.
On the matter of how MMJ is currently consumed, Sessions stated: “Medical marijuana, as one physician told me, ‘whoever heard of taking a medicine when you have no idea how much medicine you’re taking and ingesting it in the fashion that it is, which is in itself unhealthy?’”
His concession that MMJ can be beneficial to patients was welcomed by advocates, but they continued to push for action from the Justice Department to allow MMJ research, and to do so – along with broader changes in policy – without further delay.
In an interview with Marijuana Moment, the political director of NORML pointed out that “Over two million registered medical marijuana patients throughout the legal markets can attest to the attorney general’s newfound revelation. What we need is better research on consumer grade marijuana and lawful protections for legal markets, not further deliberation from the DoJ.”
Later on in the hearing, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) quoted lawmakers from Alaska state who approved a resolution in which the federal government was urged to pay respect to local cannabis laws.
Additionally, Murkowski attempted to evoke a commitment from Sessions to not stand in the way of congressional endeavors to reform marijuana laws on a federal level.
He responded, “I can’t make a commitment about what position we would take at this time, until we know what’s exactly involved.”
In closing, he did affirm that the bigger priority is addressing the opioid epidemic, stating that “our priorities are fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine. People are dying by massive amounts as a result of those drugs. We have very few, almost zero, virtually zero small marijuana cases. But if they are a big deal and illegally acting, and violating federal law, our agents may work that case.”
Though inconclusive, marijuana stocks in the U.S. can take a partial victory from Sessions’ small recognition of medical marijuana benefits. At the very least, he appears to be shifting some of his stance.
(For more recent news on Sessions, read Are Marijuana Stocks About to Skyrocket? Trump Chooses to Back the States Over Sessions)