SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The prospect of Senator Jeff Sessions as US attorney general has cast uncertainty over the country's nascent legalized marijuana industry, souring deals and disrupting share prices since the longtime critic of the drug was nominated.
The US Senate on Wednesday confirmed President Donald Trump's nomination of Sessions by a vote of 52-47 after strong opposition from Democrats.. The Republican senator from Alabama has opposed attempts to legalize marijuana and reduce drug sentences and once urged the death penalty for drug traffickers.
Trump named Sessions as his choice to lead the Justice Department on Nov. 18, shaking the exuberance of an industry that last year reached $7 billion in legal sales and generated half a billion dollars in sales taxes.
The choice of Sessions drove some businesses back underground and scared away investors, industry experts said. Growers are seeking advice on how to protect themselves from a crackdown, while other cannabis companies are seeking ways to shield their records from investigators.
"Everyone's back into wait-and-see mode," said Sasha Kadey, chief marketing officer for Greenlane, which distributes cannabis accessories such as vapor smoking devices. "Because one doesn't want to paint a target on one's back."
More than two dozen US states have legalized some form of marijuana for medical or recreational use, but the drug remains illegal at the federal level.
The administration of former Democratic President Barack Obama mostly tolerated the state legalizations, focusing on big cases or transactions that involved other crimes, such as selling pot to children.
Trump has said in the past he would defer to states on marijuana legalization, and has not addressed the issue since he was elected last November.
But Sessions, asked about marijuana policy at a Senate confirmation hearing last month, said that if Congress no longer wanted to criminalize marijuana, it "should pass a law that changes the rules."
"It's not so much the attorney general's job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able," Sessions said.
Neither the administration nor Sessions responded to requests for comment.