Last week, I laid out the worst-case scenario I can imagine for the cannabis liberation movement, a theme I’ve repeated on my podcast and in articles elsewhere, under four years of Donald “I’m Getting Some Very Negative Reports Out of Colorado” Trump, his attorney general Jeff “Good People Don’t Smoke Marijuana” Sessions, at least two years of a GOP-led Congress and at least a 5-4 conservative Supreme Court.
I’ve always believed the war on marijuana to be a culture war, and now the side that hates our culture controls all branches of government. I don’t believe it bodes well for our short-term future.
I’ve had some folks respond to me that I’m being too paranoid, that the genie is out of the bottle, that it’s too late for the culture warriors to stop us. That may very well be; I couldn’t be happier to be wrong if none of my predictions come true, and we all thrive under a burgeoning marijuana economy and increased cannabis liberty.
I was always taught in my debate education to be able to argue all sides of an issue. So, for you readers who felt I’ve been too pessimistic lately, here’s my optimistic take on how the incoming Trump administration could be the best thing that ever happened to marijuana*.
Marijuana prohibition is a culture war, but it is actually just one culture battle in a larger culture war, one that has been at the heart of American democracy since its birth—federalism vs. state sovereignty.
According to POLITICO, House Speaker Paul Ryan has instituted new rules in the House forbidding the use of budgetary amendments to advance federal changes in abortion, gun, LGBT and marijuana issues. This is a big indication that the Republicans are going to push hard for “states’ rights,” which means keeping the federal government’s nose out of their conservative states’ right to ban abortions, arm everybody everywhere, pray only in English in schools that teach creationism, keep marriage between one man and one woman and ensure each of them uses the chromosomally-correct public toilet.
Now, conservatives have been notorious for being all for limited federal government when it comes to their side of the culture battles on girls, guns, God and gays, but glad to grant government the go-ahead to grab the grass. The drug war makes a hypocrite out of every conservative who ever supported it.
But this time around, there are 28 states with medical marijuana programs, most of them approved by state legislatures. There are eight states with adult-use marijuana legalization, most of which passed by sizable margins. And there is a complete wild card in the Oval Office.
What if conservatives finally realize they must plan for the voting demographics of the future? They gained complete power with large support from older white voters, a voting demographic that will decrease as time goes on. How can the GOP of the future win the votes of a younger, more diverse electorate?
Maybe to win the larger point of having the states’ rights to oppress people and arm everyone, the Republicans decide to acknowledge the states’ rights to regulate marijuana as they choose. Maybe President Trump sees that removing cannabis from the federal drug scheduling would still allow retrograde states to ban it all they like, so it doesn’t cost him votes there, while earning him some votes from independents, minorities and younger people
In doing so, he’s taken marijuana off the table as a political issue at the federal level.
Congress doesn’t have to muck around with banking or taxation or veterans’ access issues that would garner media attention. There wouldn’t be any pesky activists in wheelchairs asking Trump uncomfortable questions about medical cannabis. No parents with seizing epileptic children visiting congressional offices pleading for federal relief.
If there’s one predictable thing about Donald Trump, it’s that he wants the Trump brand to shine. Trump hates losers; politically and economically, marijuana is now a winner.
Trump de-scheduling marijuana also has the side effect of earning him some criminal justice reform cred, creating a whole bunch of jobs and boosting the economy as he seeks re-election. He can paint himself as the man of action who finally made progress on something the people support, using the opportunity to blast Democrats who claimed to be progressive but maintained prohibition. I can imagine his tweets now:
Now, if only we could find a way to talk Kellyanne Conway into talking Donald Trump into it.
* With the caveat that it would really, really suck on a whole lot of other issues.
Previously in Radical Rant: Will Legal States End Up Like D.C.?
Click here for all of Russ Belville’s columns.