November 2016 held an unprecedented election for cannabis reform with nine states seeing marijuana reform initiatives, for both medical and/or recreational, on their ballots. For many, it came as no surprise when Nevada voters repealed marijuana prohibition and changed the laws to regulate the plant like alcohol, allowing anyone 21 and older access to cannabis. Las Vegas is, after all, the original “Sin City,” and has celebrated debauchery for decades. Since the legalization of the gaming industry in the early 30’s, Las Vegas has been known internationally as the entertainment mecca of the US, with gambling, drinking, and even legal prostitution.
Despite its sinful reputation, and in fact, likely because of all the distractions in the entertainment and sights, many annual corporate conferences are held in Vegas. Nearly 4.5 million business travelers come to Vegas each year to attend one of the hundreds of conferences held annually in the city. Corporations have learned if they want to increase attendance at their annual conference… hold it in Las Vegas. Statistics have shown anywhere from a 5-10% increase in attendance for conferences, conventions, and trade shows held in the City of Lights.
There’s little doubt why, just days after Nevada voters legalized marijuana, High Times quickly booked their 2017 US Cannabis Cup near Las Vegas on the Moapa River Indian Reservation. On November 22nd, a mere 13 days after the votes had been tallied, the counter-culture magazine proudly announced March 4th and 5th as the dates for its annual soiree stating:
“We’re so proud of Nevada for continuing our national march towards legalization and showing that this community should be celebrated, not denigrated. So naturally, we’re planning one of our biggest and best Cannabis Cups ever to usher in this new era in a style befitting of Las Vegas’s reputation.” ~ Mary McEvoy, HIGH TIMES’ Chief Events Officer.
For three decades, High Times has hosted the Cannabis Cup all over the world for cannabis lovers everywhere. By their own definition, the Cup is considered to be an event “to celebrate cannabis with music, speakers, vendors and interactive cannabis experiences, where attendees can learn hands-on about cultivation, legalization and connoisseurship, while coming together as a community to take part in the world’s premiere cannabis competition.” After years of success in Amsterdam, in 2010, thanks to changing perspectives and changing laws, High Times held their first US Cannabis Cup in San Francisco. Now, they hold conventions all over the United States for both medical consumers and recreational.
However, regardless of what the voters have said, the new Federal administration clearly had something different in mind. Although Trump supported marijuana reform, as well as, leaving it in the capable hands of the states to decide, throughout his campaign, a letter received by the Moapa Paiute Tribe just a couple weeks following the inauguration painted a much different perspective with an almost reversed stance on the administration’s approach.
The letter stated that the Federal Government was aware of the event and gave a rather poignant reminder that marijuana is still considered a federally illegal substance and that there are federal laws in place that prohibit the transport, possession, use, and distribution of cannabis on Indian land regardless of the fact that the state, where the reservation is located, deems it legal. Even stating in their own words, the Cole Memorandum means nothing in this case. Could this be foreshadowing for what’s to come? With nothing more than a stamp to mail the letter, the government turned the 2017 Cannabis Cup, into just “The Cup – A Music Fest.”
Until now, the Cole Memorandum, a guide written by James Cole, Deputy Attorney General was a basic guide for how the Feds should handle marijuana cases in states where the herb is legal. Basically, it states that as long as the necessary controls and procedures are in place, there’s no reason the Federal Government should intervene with the legal cannabis industry. In fact, it clearly states that it is not an effective use of Federal resources as long as the state, and the businesses therein, can clearly show that they can follow these seven priorities:
- No distribution to minors – clearly the jury is out on the effects of cannabis on a healthy, developing brain. From a recreational standpoint, few will argue this, however, in medical cases, cannabis has clearly shown to be beneficial for some children.
- No revenue from a legal marijuana industry should go to an illegal cartel or gang – the idea behind legalization is that it takes business AWAY from the criminals… not give them a legitimate way to fund their illegitimate activities.
- No distribution to other states – this would be a moot point if all states would legalize, however, until they do, all legal cannabis is bound to the state in which it was grown.
- No “cover operations” – in other words, don’t start a legal cannabis business to cover up your illegal cocaine distribution.
- Prevent violence and firearms in the cultivation and production of marijuana – although some dispensaries may hire armed guards for the protection of a cash-only operation, the typical image of AK-47 toting guards on illegal grows is not seen in the legal industry.
- Prevent drugged driving and other public health consequences – obviously in an era where every household has 2.5 vehicles, the fewer impaired drivers we have the roadways the better.
- Prevent any type of cannabis on federal property – this means no national parks, no airports, no federal buildings.
These guidelines were established to help protect the states and the interests of their constituents, as well as, protect the associated, legitimate businesses from the Federal raids and crackdowns on marijuana, but with this latest letter from the Department of Justice, clearly stating that the Cole Memorandum meant nothing in this case, the question must be asked…
“Was this an isolated incident, or is the new administration preparing for more intervention in the legal industry in future months?”
Only time will show us what this administration is planning to do with the legal cannabis industry. In the meantime, regional Cannabis Cup events are still being scheduled across the US, but is the future of having actual cannabis at the Cannabis Cup skating on thin ice or will the Trump administration finally see the light and end prohibition for once and for all with H.R. 1227? One can only hope.