There is a much concern within the cannabis community about the possibility of Donald Trump actually winning the presidency. Within that consideration is also the nightmare possibility of an Attorney General Chris Christie. While “The Donald” has been as wishy-washy on pot policy as he is on any policy, except building a wall, Chris Christie is one of the most consistent foes of marijuana in the country.
So what would happen to marijuana legalization under a Trump/Christie Department of Justice?
Simple—all the legal states would become just like Washington, D.C.
The federal government enforces the Controlled Substances Act, which is the law that makes marijuana illegal as a Schedule I drug. That law is backed up by the federal government’s enumerated powers to regulate the commerce between states. And thanks to the Gonzales v. Raich decision, it doesn’t even matter if the marijuana is for personal use and never sold, the feds have the power to keep it illegal.
But what the federal government cannot do is force a state to enforce federal laws.
If an Attorney General Chris Christie decided he wanted to shut down marijuana legalization, he could file federal injunctions to prevent the commercial cultivation and sales of marijuana. He could invalidate all the licensing provided by the legal states to the commercial entities in cannabis production, processing, testing and retailing. Those all fall under the federal commerce clause powers.
But he would be unable to force Colorado, Oregon, Washington or Alaska police to arrest people for possession and cultivation of cannabis. Essentially, we’d end up like Washington, D.C.’s “grow and give” system, where it would be legal to grow, possess and give marijuana to one another, but not buy or sell it (*wink wink, nudge nudge*).
Keep in mind that if there should be an Attorney General Christie, he’d be reacting not only to four currently legal states, but also the possibility of five more legal states, which would include California. Those states would never get their commercial systems running, but their legalization of possession and cultivation would still hold.
Oh, sure, AG Christie could order the DEA to go around busting personal home cultivators, but their time is going to be dominated by serving raid warrants against commercial operators throughout the West. Nothing is going to stop the people in the legal states (except Washington) from cultivating their own cannabis.
With no threat of harassment or punishment for cultivating and possessing, the marijuana black market will flourish. The crime associated with black markets will increase. The local governments accustomed to reaping marijuana tax revenue will make drastic cuts. The horrible optics of medical marijuana being shutdown nationwide, with thousands of patients and caregivers protesting, will become ubiquitous on social media and the evening news.
Oddly enough, a President Trump/AG Christie could increase support for marijuana legalization by providing such a drastic example of what happens without legal marijuana markets. Before legalization, people just accepted the status quo of prohibition. Now that tokers and non-tokers have experienced shopping in dispensaries—and how that reduces crime, improves neighborhoods and increases the economy—going back to a prohibition economy with legal personal use will be unacceptable.
But just to be sure, let’s not ever find out. Don’t vote for Donald Trump.
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