LAS VEGAS — Nevada Democrats expressed outrage while Republicans took a wait-and-see approach Thursday after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called for federal prosecutors to decide whether to pursue marijuana cases in their districts.
State Sen. Richard “Tick” Segerblom, a Democrat and the dean of marijuana legislation in Nevada, worried the Trump administration reversal of the hands-off Obama-era policy would snuff out a budding business.
“We have hundreds of millions of dollars invested, tens of millions of dollars in taxes we’re anticipating that we’ve already budgeted, and thousands of employees making a good wage who will be affected,” Segerblom said. “If they intend to prosecute, it would shut us down.”
Recreational pot became legal in July in Nevada, where the federal prosecutor’s office is now in transition.
The appointment of interim U.S. Attorney Dayle Elieson was announced Wednesday and she has yet to arrive from her former job in Texas. She has not publicly said what her position will be on marijuana and did not immediately respond Thursday to messages.
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, who faces a tough party primary this year, said Gov. Brian Sandoval and state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, both Republicans, should meet with federal officials about the policy change.
Sandoval is a moderate Republican and former federal judge who appointed Heller to the Senate in 2011 and talked with Sessions about marijuana policy last April.
The governor said he expects to meet with the new top prosecutor in Nevada after she arrives.
Sandoval calls Nevada’s marijuana industry a model for other states, while working within the guidelines of federal policies.
Medical marijuana became legal in Nevada in 2015, and recreational pot sales won voter approval in November 2016.
Statewide, 62 medical and recreational pot dispensaries reaped more than $13 million in taxes in the first three months of operation, Nevada Dispensary Association executive Riana Durrett said. She tallied more than 6,700 industry jobs, with hourly wages averaging more than $19.
“We don’t know what this means,” Durrett said of Sessions’ comments. “It’s going to be up to the new U.S. attorney, but we don’t know what her position is on this yet.”
Laxalt, a Republican candidate for governor this fall, said his office was evaluating the ramifications for Nevada. He said he opposed legalization at the ballot box but his office defended the law against lawsuits once it passed.
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, derided as “hypocrisy” the policy change from a presidential administration that she accused of “trampling on the will of Nevadans and creating unnecessary confusion for our state.”