Marijuana businesses face a more uncertain legal environment

Oregon marijuana businesses face growing legal uncertainty following a change of policy at the federal level.

For entrepreneurs in Oregon, 2017 may be both the best and the worst time to be involved in the marijuana business. While a large majority of the public backs legalized marijuana and Oregon is one of many states that have legalized recreational marijuana use, on the federal level it seems as though marijuana prohibition is becoming even more stringent. Attorney General Jeff Session recently rescinded the so-called Cole Memo, which had provided marijuana businesses with some degree of protection against federal prosecution. Below is a look at whether or not marijuana businesses in Oregon need to start worrying about a federal crackdown.

Federal and state laws diverge further

Of course, federal and state laws have been out of step with one another on marijuana for a while now. Despite the fact that more than half of all states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana to some extent, it is still strictly prohibited under federal law.

When states began legalizing marijuana, the Obama administration adopted a policy of essentially non-interference. That policy was laid out in the so-called Cole Memo, which basically stated that the FBI and DEA would not prosecute federal marijuana charges against individuals who were otherwise complying with state law.

However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a long-time opponent of marijuana legalization, recently rescinded the Cole Memo, which, at least in theory, means that marijuana businesses in Oregon could again be exposed to federal prosecution.

What does the future hold for marijuana businesses?

Unfortunately, Session's rescinding of the Cole Memo has only led to further uncertainty for marijuana businesses in Oregon that are otherwise in full compliance with state law. As Willamette Week reports, there is reason to believe that the FBI and DEA in the state will still largely take a hands-off approach to Oregon's growing cannabis industry. The U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams, who is responsible for enforcing federal drug law in the state, largely said as much when he stated his office would focus on prosecuting those accused of overproduction, criminal organizations, and trade across state lines rather than on businesses operating within the state's legal marijuana framework.

Another potential barrier to enforcing federal prohibitions against marijuana is simply the size of the industry. In Oregon alone, there are 19,000 marijuana-related jobs, and, as Entrepreneur reports, the marijuana industry is expected to be worth $20 billion nationwide by 2021. Even if federal prosecutors decided to start enforcing marijuana laws , they simply would not have the manpower to do so effectively.

Legal advice for marijuana businesses

As the above article shows, marijuana businesses face a number of legal challenges despite enjoying broad public and political support within Oregon itself. To help address those challenges, marijuana entrepreneurs should consult with a business law firm for help. With legal counsel on hand, businesses can ensure they stay on the right side of the law and avoid legal problems to the greatest extent possible.