U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Thursday announcement couldn't have come at a worse time for Texas' nascent medical cannabis industry. After years of detente during the Obama administration, Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, a Department of Justice directive that federal law enforcement not crack down on marijuana-related activity otherwise protected under state law. In Texas, where advocates have only recently won the right to grow low-THC cannabis for processing into cannibidiol (CBD) oil, Sessions' gambit could be a big blow against a movement that's just getting started, if the Lone Star state becomes a target.
"Sessions rescinding the Cole memo really is concerning," Heather Fazio, the Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project says. "The biggest thing is not just the memo in and of itself, but it's the possibility of a trend of federal interference [in state marijuana policy]. Is this the beginning of a crackdown? That's the concern that operators and patients have."
Texas' Compassionate Care Act, passed in 2015, allows strictly regulated companies to produce CBD oil for the exclusive use of patients with intractable epilepsy. In 2017, the state licensed three companies to begin growing cannabis to be processed into the oil, which contains very low levels of THC, the compound in marijuana that causes users to feel high. The head of one of those companies, Morris Denton, said Thursday that if the DOJ is planning a crackdown, he believes they'll hit states with more liberal laws with regard to medical or recreational pot first.
"It’s uncertain what’s in store for states that have passed broad medical cannabis legalization laws or laws allowing recreational marijuana," Denton, the CEO of Compassionate Cultivation said in a statement. "What actions will be taken next on the federal level are still to be determined. From our perspective in Texas, the DOJ’s action is likely to be focused on states with more liberal legalization laws."
Fazio says the ultimate success of Texas CBD oil producers, who are now at the mercy of federal law enforcement, will come down to Texas' conservative lawmakers and their willingness to defend laws passed by their home state.
"It will be interesting to see the lawmakers that are going to defend the state program. That's going to come down to our conservative leadership here in Texas," Fazio says. "There's been nothing but positive reviews for the program, both patients and doctors saying this is a good step in the right direction."
Neither of Texas' two U.S. senators, Ted Cruz or John Cornyn, returned requests to comment for this story. During his unsuccessful 2016 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Cruz said that, while he is personally against legalized marijuana, he supports states' rights on the issue. Cornyn does not support marijuana legalization, be it for recreational or medicinal purposes.
In spite of Sessions' decision, Denton said Compassionate Cultivation is going to continue its work toward producing CBD oil. "We remain committed to our mission of growing, processing and dispensing the purest, highest-quality CBD medicine to help reduce the suffering for those with intractable epilepsy in the Lone Star State," Denton said.