America's fast-growing marijuana industry appears poised for supercharged growth after winning what cannabis entrepreneurs see as approval from the Trump administration to forge ahead.
The legal marijuana market was already growing exponentially despite fears of a federal crackdown under Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but Trump’s signal that he'll respect state legalization may swing open the floodgates by reassuring traditional investors, entrepreneurs and local lawmakers that it’s OK to jump in.
Across the nation, risk-takers have poured billions of dollars into the industry while knowing they could be arrested by federal agents at any moment.
They’ve built — largely unseen — a powerful network of businesses poised to take advantage of a more favorable federal climate. That industry has already woven itself into the fabric of the states where pot is legal, providing tens of thousands of jobs and generating billions of dollars in new tax revenues.
Experts say those numbers are now likely to rise rapidly thanks to Trump’s promised hands-off approach and support of some sort of federal solution.
"Every day we wake up and build this industry. And every day we do that, it’s a little harder to shut it down," said Daniel Yi, a spokesman for the California-based marijuana powerhouse MedMen.
There's no denying America’s love affair with marijuana is accelerating across the nation as voters loosen laws and grow increasingly comfortable with a drug that has been forbidden for generations. Today, more than 60% of Americans believe marijuana should be legal, double its popularity in 2000, according to a January 2018 poll by the Pew Research Center. That comes against a backdrop of contrasting studies that have offered little insight into how legalization is impacting youth use, stoned driving and border-state black markets.
But Trump's acceptance of popular state legalization reflects the reality and power of this increasingly important industry. Across the country, cannabis legalization is transforming communities in ways big and small, winning many converts among skeptical cops and local politicians as new tax dollars pour into schools and scholarships, pay for road paving and drug treatment, and, if advocates have their way, lift up minority communities devastated by the War on Drugs.
“It’s really fun to see people’s minds change,” Jen Lujan of California-based marijuana firm Eaze said.
Marijuana’s economic impact in particular has helped keep the focus on the positives of legalization. While most supporters agree that marijuana taxes haven’t been the boon many expected, the industry’s economic power is undeniable.
At least 121,000 people are already working directly in the nation’s home-grown marijuana industry, tending plants, trimming leaves and selling cannabis products to eager consumers, according to BDS Analytics and Arcview Market Research. For comparison, there are fewer than 50,000 coal miners, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Potcast, a USA TODAY Network podcast, tells the story of America’s shifting attitude toward legalizing pot:
Nine states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Oregon, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Vermont and Washington, along with Washington D.C., — have legalized recreational pot use, although not all of them permit and tax sales. Those states selling pot have collected more than $1.6 billion in taxes since their legalization programs began, and California’s launch of legal sales earlier this year is expected to supercharge that number.
Medical and recreational cannabis sales will hit $11.7 billion this year, predicts cannabis analytics firm New Frontier Data, increase by 25% in 2019 and hit $25 billion in seven years. For comparison, wine sales in the United States were worth $60 billion last year, according to the Beverage Information and Insights Group. For risk-taking entrepreneurs, cannabis holds the promise of a vast new industry that's entirely homegrown.
How the federal government acts could change that dramatically. President Obama's administration had promised it would leave well-run state marijuana programs alone, but Sessions rescinded that promise in January, throwing the industry into chaos. Many traditional investors have shied away from pouring their capital into the industry over fears they'd be treated like drug traffickers, and a strong sign of support from Trump over Congressional action might provide the reassurance they're seeking.
Last week, U.S. Sen. Cory Garder said Trump promised him he'd respect states' rights when it comes to legal pot and would support a federal-level change to bring consistency. Several members of Congress have introduced bills to either legalize cannabis entirely or at least remove it as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
"By supporting this law, President Trump has arguably done more to advance the growth of the regulated cannabis industry than any other president," said Isaac Dietrich, CEO of marijuana services firm MassRoots.
Because legalization has happened almost entirely at state ballot boxes, the United States has so far avoided having a national conversation about the broader implications of increased use and availability. That troubles legalization opponents such as Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the nation’s leading anti-cannabis organization. SAM has been fighting a state-by-state battle against legalization on the grounds that increased access will lead to increased use. SAM supports increased access to drug treatment and a reduction or elimination of criminal penalties for minor marijuana consumption but opposes broad legalization.
"This reckless plan will not go unanswered," Sabet said.
Whether there really is a plan remains uncertain, and many marijuana industry experts say they'll believe Trump only once there's a law in place. In dealing with a president who sets policy via Twitter, they want to see actual legislation.
"This is another head-spinning moment," said Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat and leading voice for federal legalization. "We should hope for the best, but not take anything for granted. Trump changes his mind constantly, and Republican leadership is still in our way."
A USA TODAY survey in January found hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing from the cannabis industry into campaign finance accounts of both lawmakers and political action committees, with emphasis this year on Congressional Republicans who control the agenda. Democrats typically have been the largest recipients of marijuana campaign money in the past, but Republicans are now taking the lead in accepting those donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzed contributions at the request of USA TODAY. Experts say the recent shift is largely attributable to the belief by marijuana businesses that Republicans who support states' rights are their best allies today.
But in the industry's increasing clout, legalization critics see echoes of a time when Big Tobacco called the shots. Critics see worrying similarities in how the marijuana industry makes broad health claims about its products while simultaneously touting its economic impact. Cigarette manufacturers made similar claims, and the health costs of tobacco use, including lung cancer, are widely acknowledged to dwarf the industry's benefits.
"Tobacco Road also hired a lot of people and kept a lot of people employed," said Deni Carise, an addiction expert and chief scientific officer at Recovery Centers of America. "I think (marijuana legalization) is going to cost our country a lot of money.”
Adds Sabet: “It’s one thing to let someone grow a little pot at home. It’s another entirely to get Madison Avenue involved. This isn’t something that Cheech and Chong would have ever envisioned. The people in suits have taken over.”
A cloud of marijuana smoke hangs over the annual 4/20 rally April 20, 2017, in Denver. Experts say they have no clear answers on how widespread marijuana legalization will affect our society. (Photo: Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY)
Legalization supporters brush off those concerns, arguing that the War on Drugs for too long has demonized a plant widely used by humans for thousands of years. They say it's about time national politicians recognize that marijuana legalization is the right thing to do. And they say if the nation's economy can benefit, all the better.
“Now, finally seeing that momentum, seeing that shift, it’s pretty amazing. And it’s happening quickly, quicker than maybe even the regulators are ready for. I don’t think anybody realized how big this industry really is," said Dennis Hunter, founder of California-based premium marijuana supplier CannaCraft. "Everybody’s aware of it right now, but it’s getting normalized, and in a couple years we’ll all just accept it.”
President Donald Trump and his outside advisers are increasingly worried that his longtime personal attorney might be susceptible to cooperating with federal prosecutors.
Two sources close to the president said people in Trump’s inner circle have in recent days been actively discussing the possibility that Michael Cohen — long seen as one of Trump’s most loyal personal allies — might flip if he faces serious charges as a result of his work on behalf of Trump.
“That’s what they’ll threaten him with: life imprisonment,” said Alan Dershowitz, the liberal lawyer and frequent Trump defender who met with the president and his staff over two days at the White House last week. “They’re going to threaten him with a long prison term and try to turn him into a canary that sings.”
FBI agents overseen by federal prosecutors in New York last week raided Cohen’s office and apartment, as well as a hotel room he’d been using. The Trump lawyer is a figure in the ongoing Russia investigation overseen by special counsel Robert Mueller in Washington, but Manhattan-based government attorneys said in court that he is also under separate investigation for his business dealings.
Cohen, who has not been publicly charged with any crimes, owns New York City taxi medallions. He has also been deeply involved in the $130,000 payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who has accused Trump of trying to cover up an affair she says the two had in 2006.
In an interview with CNN last week, Cohen called the raid “unsettling to say the least.” But he also said in the same interview that the federal agents were “extremely professional, courteous and respectful” — a dramatic departure from his usual combative style.
Those comments raised eyebrows among some in Trump’s inner circle, who noted that one of the president’s most ferocious attack dogs seemed unusually taciturn.
“When anybody is faced with spending a long time in jail, they start to re-evaluate their priorities, and cooperation can’t be ruled out,” said one Trump ally who knows Cohen.
Since the raid, the president and his advisers have been singularly focused on the risk of a potential federal prosecution of Cohen, which they view as a much bigger existential threat to the presidency than former FBI Director James Comey, whose book “A Higher Loyalty” has dominated headlines and even Trump’s Twitter feed even before its Tuesday release.
Trump has regularly ranted to friends and advisers about the investigation into Cohen, according to two other people familiar with the conversations. He believes strongly that the FBI raid has pushed the boundaries of attorney-client privilege, telling friends that he and his associates are being unfairly targeted.
“He’s not happy about it,” said one White House official.
The White House appears to be creating some distance from Cohen. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters earlier this week that though Trump and Cohen have “still got some ongoing things,” the president “has a large number of attorneys, as you know.”
Trump said Wednesday during a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he wants the Mueller investigation “over with, done with.” He added that his administration is “giving tremendous amounts of paper” to investigators.
A White House spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
In a court filing last week, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York explained the FBI raid was “the result of a months-long investigation” into the president’s lawyer and that prosecutors were looking for evidence of crimes related to his business dealings.
Trump and his allies fear that documents and recordings that the FBI swept up from Cohen’s home and office could come back to haunt the president, whose lawyers have joined Cohen’s in New York in asserting attorney-client privilege and are asking a federal judge to approve an independent review of the material.
“Who knows what Cohen has in those files,” said a person close to the White House.
But their concerns go beyond Cohen’s voluminous files. Increasingly, Trump’s outside advisers are worried about the risk posed by Cohen himself.
“I think for two years or four years or five years, Michael Cohen would be a stand-up guy. I think he’d tell them go piss up a rope. But depending on dollars involved, which can be a big driver, or if they look at him and say it’s not two to four years, it’s 18 to 22, then how loyal is he?” said one defense lawyer who represents a senior Trump aide in Mueller’s Russia investigation.
“Is he two years loyal? Is he 10 years loyal? Is he 15 years loyal?” the attorney added. “That’s the currency. It’s not measured in inches. It’s measured in years.”
Jay Goldberg, a longtime Trump lawyer, told The Wall Street Journal that he spoke with Trump on Friday about Cohen and warned the president against trusting Cohen if he is facing criminal charges. Goldberg said he warned the president that Cohen “isn’t even a 1” on a scale of 1 to 100, where 100 was remaining fully loyal to the president, the newspaper reported.
But others in Trump’s circle believe Cohen will remain loyal to the president, pointing to Cohen’s long, well-documented history of publicly defending the president, whether in business or politics.
“I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president,” Cohen told Vanity Fair in an interview last summer. Cohen tweeted earlier this month that he will “always protect” Trump.
Appearing on MSNBC on Wednesday, former Trump White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said Cohen was not a risk to turn on Trump. “If you said to me and I had to flip a coin, is he going to turn on President Trump or turn on other people? I would say adamantly no,” he said.
Cohen and Trump’s relationship dates back a dozen years. He was one of the earliest backers of the president’s political ambitions, and during the 2016 campaign served as a prominent adviser and spokesman, despite disagreements with others on the campaign.
The two men reportedly had dinner together last month at the president’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in South Florida. They also spoke by phone last Friday as their lawyers were working together to try to shield materials seized in the FBI raid.
The fallout from the FBI raid continued Wednesday for Cohen, who dropped two much-publicized libel lawsuits against BuzzFeed and the private investigation firm Fusion GPS over publication of the so-called dossier detailing alleged ties between Trump and Russia.
Cohen’s attorney, David Schwartz, told the court the voluntary decision to drop the lawsuits was needed “given the events that have unfolded, and the time, attention, and resources needed to prosecute these matters, we have dismissed the matters, despite their merits."
Cohen and his attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Experts tracking the case say indictments against Cohen are possible for bank and wire fraud. He could also end up becoming a target in Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Mueller has already shown a willingness to play hardball. Former Trump aides Michael Flynn, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos have all pleaded guilty to various criminal charges and are cooperating. Onetime campaign manager Paul Manafort has pleaded not guilty to bank fraud and tax evasion charges and is set to face trial starting in July.
Legal experts noted that federal authorities face an uphill climb in turning lawyers against their clients. “It’s a bit of a moonshot if that’s what they are trying to do,” warned a second defense lawyer working on the Russia probe.
The prospect of years or even decades in prison might be easier to swallow if Cohen believes a presidential pardon is possible. White House officials and others close to the president insist that last week’s decision to pardon former Vice President Dick Cheney’s senior aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby on perjury charges dating to his service in the George W. Bush administration was not intended to send a message to Cohen — but it nonetheless could go a long way toward reassuring the president’s lawyer.
“They’re going to squeeze him like a grape. I think in the end he’ll pop unless Trump pardons him,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a senior fellow at the nonprofit R Street Institute and a former senior counsel during independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation into President Bill Clinton.
Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic consultant who has worked with both Cohen and Trump, said the ties binding the attorney and the president will go a long way. But he, too, wouldn’t rule out how the pressure of prosecution would influence Cohen.
“Here’s a guy who appears to be very tough, very loyal and has said publicly about how he feels about Mr. Trump. That shouldn’t change, but who knows what the future holds,” he said. “People change when pressure is put on them. He’s very loyal. He’s very stand-up. It’d be a difficult decision for him to make.”
Cohen flipping “would be Trump’s worst nightmare,” said John Dean, the former White House counsel whose cooperation with Watergate prosecutors helped lead to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
“It would be as stunning and life-disrupting a surprise as his winning the presidency,” Dean added. “And if there is any prosecutor’s office in the USA that can flip Cohen, it is the Southern District of New York.”
Southwest, Delta and United All Had Emergency Landings Today. Here's Why They Should Make You Feel Great About Flying
It's been a scary day for airline passengers, after three of the biggest U.S. carriers--Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines--all had emergency landings within less than 18 hours.
But as harrowing as these incidents were (and in one case tragic, as a passenger died and seven others were injured), there's also reason to take some comfort. They demonstrate that while mechanical problems are statistically inevitable given the sheer number of flights each day--flying is still by far the safest mode of travel.
Much of that safety record has to do with two things: the fact that we have some incredibly sturdy planes, and also that we have airline pilots with great skill and nerves of steel.
Below, you'll find the stories of today's heroism and good fortune. And there's audio of the incredibly calm pilot of the Southwest Airlines plane, a former Navy fighter pilot named Tammie Jo Shults, as she lands her 737--after part of an engine blew up, broke a window in the fuselage, and fatally wounded a passenger.
1. United AirlinesThere were three emergency landings, and while the third one below was by far the most serious, the first two are also worth remembering. It started with a United Airlines flight heading from Newark International Airport to Palm Beach, Florida that had to divert to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Monday at 7:24 p.m.
"The pilots of #UA1559 reported 'trouble with the elevator,'" according to ABC News. "Such a problem would lead to controllability challenges."
Nobody was injured, and the passengers spent about five hours at the Air Force base before United was able to send a second airplane to taken them to Florida.
l2. Delta Airlines
Next, a Delta Connection flight operated by Express Jet, en route from New York La Guardia to Richmond International Airport diverted to Dulles Airport due to "an issue with the landing gear," according to reports--which turned out to be the fact that one of the wheels had come off.
Nobody was injured here either, and the passengers eventually made it to Richmond--but via a two-hour bus ride. Not the best experience, but everyone did arrive safely.
3. Southwest Airlines
The most dramatic and horrifying of the day's emergency landings was Southwest Airlines flight 1380. It's also the most tragic story as one passenger died.
As you may have heard by now, SWA 1380 took off form La Guardia at around the same time as the Delta Connection flight above, and was set to travel to Dallas. At 35,000 feet, part of the port engine apparently exploded, sending shrapnel into the fuselage and breaking a window.
The low pressure created a sucking effect, and a passenger, identified in media reports as Jennifer Riordan, 43, of New Mexico, was reportedly pulled partially through the window. Others pulled her back in, apparently unconscious, and passengers tried unsuccessfully to do CPR to save her life.
"You hear the pop and she was sucked out from the waist up. There was blood on the windows...her arms were actually out of the airplane and her head was out of the airplane," another passenger told NBC.
Riordan was reportedly the first passenger ever to die on a Southwest flight, and the first fatality on any U.S. airline since 2009.
This is by far the most shocking and terrifying story of its kind from today, and frankly disturbing new details have emerged even as I've been writing this article. But it's also a story of heroism, on the parts of some other passengers, and the pilot and copilot.
The pilot, identified as Tammie Jo Shults, was reportedly one of the first female U.S. Navy fighter pilots before becoming a commercial aviator. And her calm demeanor while piloting a crippled jet under truly tragic conditions--much of it recorded in her exchange with air traffic control--is truly worth a listen.
Truly, this was a harrowing experience--and our hearts go out to Riordan's family, and to the other passengers who were reportedly injured. But this recording--and the fact that Shults managed to land--has me focusing on the reassuring aspect of the whole thing.
In short, as harrowing as these incidents are, the passenger jets we fly on are sturdy enough to survive literally having an engine blow up. And the pilots are calm and professional enough to handle most of these kinds of situations.
As horrifying as Riordan's death is, 148 other passengers survived. And that's why I think the overall story is cause for faith, not fear.
President Donald Trump has renewed his attack on a huge Pacific trade pact just days after raising the possibility of the United States rejoining it.Trump wrote on Twitter late Tuesday that he thought the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) didn't represent a good deal for the world's biggest economy.
"While Japan and South Korea would like us to go back into TPP, I don't like the deal for the United States," he tweeted.
"Too many contingencies and no way to get out if it doesn't work. Bilateral deals are far more efficient, profitable and better for OUR workers. Look how bad WTO is to US."
Trump pulled the United States out of TPP in one of his first acts after becoming president in January last year. The 11 remaining countries in the trade agreement have since forged ahead with a new deal without the United States.
But last week Trump floated the possibility of rejoining the agreement, when he asked his top trade and economic advisers to investigate "whether or not a better deal could be negotiated," the White House said.
TPP countries including Japan, Australia and New Zealand had responded cautiously to Trump's rethink, warning that renegotiating the deal would be difficult.
Trump's latest rejection of the TPP came during a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago, where the two leaders are discussing North Korea and trade.
"I suspect that Abe highlighted to Trump the impossibility of a wholesale renegotiation of the TPP agreement at this time," said Deborah Elms, executive director of the Asian Trade Centre in Singapore. The US president's latest tweet "shows that Trump still does not understand the agreement," she added.
Trump has been pushing Japan for a bilateral trade agreement that would give American companies better access to the Japanese economy, the third largest in the world. Trump has previously described trade with Japan as "not fair" and "not open."
Japan's government, which was dismayed by Trump's decision to pull out of the TPP last year, has made it clear that it's in no hurry to sign up for bilateral negotiations with Washington.
It was not immediately clear why Trump mentioned South Korea in the context of TPP. The country is not part of the TPP, although its government has at times expressed interest in joining provided the US also signs up.