Investors in and advocates for legal commercial marijuana are waiting with bated breath for any sign from the Trump administration regarding marijuana policy. The nominations of hardline drug warrior Sen. Jeff Sessions to head the Department of Justice and medical-marijuana hating Rep. Tom Price to head Health & Human Services do not bode well for continuation of the Obama administration’s “hands-off” approach to state-legal pot.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to speak at the Virginia Cannabis Conference. Delivering the keynote address was John J. Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, who specializes in the presidency. Hudak explained how “you’re insane,” if you think that marijuana is too big or too popular for the Trump administration to prosecute.
“If public opinion was a determinant of what our policies look like,” Hudak warned, referring to recent polls showing over 60 percent support for legalization, “we would have comprehensive immigration reform [and] universal background checks for guns… That 62 or 63 percent of Americans support legalization means nothing to the president of the United States.”
In response to the idea that the marijuana industry is making too much money and Trump, a businessman, supports money, Hudak stated, “Your industry is small by any metric of American capitalism. You are a speck of dust in a clutter of dirt of American capitalism… The president is planning to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If you think that hospitals, doctors and the pharmaceutical industry are small enough to be shaken down by the president, but the cannabis industry is too big to face the same challenge from the president, once again, you’re insane.”
So, it is not as if the marijuana industry is Shrek, a hulking goliath that everybody but the evil king with tiny hands loves. At this point, we’re the tiny mammals in the Triassic period trying to avoid being eaten by dinosaurs.
Speaking of dinosaurs, remember George W. Bush’s drug czar, John P. Walters? When we last heard from Walters circa 2007, he was telling us that pot smokers in jail are like unicorns:
“The fact is, today, people don’t go to jail for possession of marijuana,” Walters said. “I know you like to pretend it does [sic] and there’s a lot of misinformation about that. But finding somebody in jail or prison for a first-time non-violent possession of marijuana is like finding a unicorn. You find one, you’ll make a big story, because it doesn’t exist.”
While Trump has signaled who his attorney general and HHS picks are, he has been mum on who would be his new director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, AKA “Drug Czar.” But the folks from Big Rehab, writing in Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Weekly, think we’re headed back to the drug war policies of President Bush.
“The drug strategy of the Trump administration is going to look a lot like that under John Walters, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) under President George W. Bush, ADAW has learned. The three key issues are prevention, treatment and border control.”
If Walters is returning to the post of Drug Czar or merely advising the Trump administration, it could be disaster for the marijuana industry.
Today, Walters is a co-author along with David W. Murray (a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former associate deputy director of ONDCP) and Brian Blake (another Hudson senior fellow and former deputy chief of staff at ONDCP) of a piece in the Weekly Standard entitled, “The Risky Business of Commercial Marijuana,” in which they lay out all the ways a motivated anti-pot administration could crush the hopes of green rush entrepreneurs.
“Trafficking in illicit drugs has always been tenuous for corporations who might thereby jeopardize the reputation of their legitimate brands,” the drug warriors wrote, warning that the 60 percent nationwide support for legalization has occurred, “in the midst of an eight-year period where our nation was led by an administration that downplayed marijuana’s threat, tacitly approved of its state-level legalization, and made no effort to enforce federal law.”
The teetotaling trio also chastise the press for what they call “irresponsible cheerleading” for marijuana legalization. They refer to America’s mass incarceration as a “fanciful term” that was invented by legalizers who falsely claimed that the prisons were full of “hapless youth caught with a joint,” reviving Walters’ “marijuana unicorns” talking point.
State legalization has been allowed to proceed thanks to the Obama administration’s so-called “Cole Memo,” which lays out eight priorities regarding federal marijuana law enforcement. So long as the states don’t allow marijuana to get to minors, enrich criminals, leave the state, cover drug trafficking, increase violence, increase drugged driving or get grown or used on public lands or federal property, the federal government would keep its hands off the states.
As far as Walters, Murray and Blake are concerned, the states have been in open violation of most, if not all, of those priorities. They write that “the black market has thrived” and the criminals have “increased their power and their criminality” under legalization. They believe that marijuana has found its way “into the hands of the very young” and that the idea that legalization protects children is an “outright lie.”
“But perhaps the biggest misrepresentation was that smoking the new, high-potency industrial dope from the commercial markets was ‘safe,’” the authors warn. “Ample demonstration of this fallacy is now replete in the medical literature, including lowered IQ, increased psychotic episodes, and the creation of users more susceptible to the deadly opioid crisis.”
This ménage-à-trois of marijuana terror closed their piece by warning investors about all the pitfalls of the marijuana industry. They scare entrepreneurs about the “substantial security costs necessary against armed and violent criminals.” They predict that submitting a marijuana company’s federal taxes is “tantamount to admitting criminal guilt” as their “corporate records document a federal crime.” They even frighten businesses with the threat of personal injury lawsuits based on “major psychotic episodes to school failure to roadway fatalities” caused by marijuana.
In closing, the toker-hating triumvirate write that there is a “new uncertainty regarding marijuana enforcement in the sharply altered political landscape created by the most recent election. Investors beware.”
Do these three Bush-era drug warriors know better than the cannabis industry spokespeople who keep painting a rosy picture of an industry-loving Trump administration to keep the investment dollars flowing? Or are they painting a gloomy picture of an industry-wrecking Trump administration just to obstruct the inevitable? Only time will tell.