Donald Trump was elected U.S. President in November without gaining a majority of the popular vote; he won the White House with 304 Electoral College votes despite totaling three million less general election votes than Hillary Clinton in a race marred with controversy over Russian hacking and voter intimidation at the ballot box.
And while it’s clear Trump’s unprecedented victory—he’s the first president with no prior military or governmental experience—tapped into a disenfranchised voter base, it’s also apparent that this base is not largely pro-pot. However, a clear-cut majority of Americans do support recreational cannabis; an October 2016 Gallup poll revealed a record high 60 percent of adults favoring legal weed.
As the Trump administration begins to assemble itself and conduct the business of day-to-day governance over this country, the question remains—will states’ rights and the will of the people regarding legalized medicinal and recreational pot be respected by Trump and his political appointees?
The answer will only come with time, but we could be seeing an upcoming conflict, pitting a faction of the most strident anti-weed hardliners in the Trump administration versus the burgeoning billion-dollar interests of legal cannabis.
In compiling this list of the worst anti-weed warriors within the nascent Trump administration, the rankings were determined both by the power of their position as well as their probable bias in negatively impacting the impetus of legal cannabis—based on their prior statements and actions.
1. Jeff Sessions—U.S. Attorney General (confirmed by the Senate 52-47)
The freshly nominated Sessions now runs the Department of Justice, which administers federal regulation of cannabis, meaning the top cop in the country is blatantly against the bud and a controversial choice, at best, for AG. Sessions was previously a Republican Senator from Alabama, the absolute worst state in the U.S. when it comes to marijuana laws.
As reported by Politico, he personally stated in April that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” that pot is a “very real danger” and worse, “not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.” He also regards reefer reform as a “tragic mistake.”
Sessions’ full name, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, conjures images of a Confederate general from the Civil War, which could prove ironic should Sessions further divide the nation when it comes to legal weed.
Then, there’s the well-documented issue of Sessions’ racism, including a 1986 comment while U.S. attorney in Alabama that he was cool with the KKK—until he found out they smoked pot. Sessions claimed he was “joking.” But, as noted by Heavy.com, Sessions has publicly and privately stated that the ACLU and NAACP could be construed as anti-American organizations and regards the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be “intrusive legislation.”
Sessions embodies the double-edge sword of institutional racial oppression and pot prohibition that results in minority arrests for marijuana possession being much higher than for white weed users. Sessions is also largely credited with shaping Trump’s policies in his unprecedented capturing of the Oval Office, making Sessions’ anti-weed worldview all the more ominous. Make no mistake about it—Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the number one threat to the progress of legal medical and recreational marijuana across America for the next four years.
2. Tom Price—Secretary of Health and Human Services (confirmed by the Senate 52-47)
As noted by the Washington Post, the HHS under Price could restrict medicinal cannabis in legal states, for example, by sanctioning physicians who recommend cannabis or by suing distributors for selling a medicine not approved by the FDA and against federal law.
As a Republican Congressman from the primarily anti-pot state of Georgia, Price has consistently voted against even modest pot policy reforms in the House of Representatives over the years. Specifically, he opposed a measure to stop the Department of Justice (see above) from interfering with states’ recreational pot programs and outdid himself by voting six times against amendments to prevent the DoJ from obstructing state medicinal cannabis laws. The congressman even turned his back on our nation’s veterans, voting three times to defeat a measure to permit Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend MMJ to vets who could benefit from it.
His only saving grace is voting in favor of a measure that stopped the Justice Department from interfering with states’ administering non-psychoactive cannabidiol. Price is a doctor, yet denies the efficacy of medicinal cannabis, despite numerous studies and case histories indicating otherwise. The HHS needs a progressive physician in tune and in touch with the ever expanding reality of medical marijuana, not a “just say no” dinosaur like Dr. Price.
Everyone knows the” Veep” doesn’t really do anything, right? Just public appearances and kissing babies? Not when it comes to Pence, who is a more empowered vice president than most of his predecessor—think Dick Cheney guiding Dubya into Iraq.
Before being plucked out of relative obscurity by Trump, Pence was governor of one of the worst anti-weed states—Indiana—and he did his damnedest to keep it that way. As reported by the Indiana Economic Digest, in 2013, then-Governor Pence refused to sign a statewide bill reducing first-offense cannabis possession of less than 30 grams (one ounce) to a “Class C” misdemeanor, only signing after legislators moved pot back up to a more severe “Class B” misdemeanor. Pence’s rationale was expressed in his comment at the time: “I think we need to focus on reducing crime, not reducing penalties,” ignoring the obvious logic that pot reform leads to a reduction in criminal activities.
The concern here is the degree to which Pence as vice president will be capable of influencing Trump when it comes to shaping a national cannabis policy.
4. Scott Pruitt—Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (pending Senate confirmation)
Pruitt being made “protector of the environment” is wrong for so many reasons—most notably, during his confirmation hearing to head the EPA, Pruitt criticized the rules and regulations that ensure clean air and water. He prefers “states’ rights” when it comes to determining environmental policy, but no surprise, Pruitt has zero interest in respecting other states’ laws regarding legal marijuana.
In December 2015, as Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt persisted in a lawsuit against legal weed state Colorado despite objections from the Obama administration, but Obama is now part of history and Pruitt is set to join the federal government. According to NASA and NOAA data, 2016 was the warmest year globally on record, and 2017 will likely top that. America—and the world—needs an EPA head honcho who puts the environment first and would utilize hemp cultivation and resources to help reduce global warming, not an anti-cannabis shill for big business and climate denier like Pruitt.
5. John F. Kelly—Secretary of Homeland Security (approved by the Senate 88-11)
In 2014, General Kelly—who formerly lead the U.S. Southern Command, responsible for all military activities in Central and South America—publicly condemned Colorado and Washington for legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012 As reported by Forbes, Kelly’s outrage was based on the issue that legal pot in the U.S. made it more difficult for him to enlist cooperation fighting drugs from Latin American countries, which viewed the U.S. insistence they rid their own nations of narcotics as hypocritical in light of two U.S. states fully legalizing weed.
Kelly failed to acknowledge prohibition is the root cause of violence and chaos associated with illicit drug trafficking, which makes him a potentially dangerous choice to head Homeland Security and their largest law enforcement agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is involved with stemming the flow of illegal drugs—including marijuana—into the U.S.
6. Pam Bondi—Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (not yet appointed)
The current attorney general for the state of Florida, Bondi would be higher on this list were she an official appointee, though she has been strongly rumored to be Trump’s first choice for “drug czar.”
Despite reports of Bondi backing off in 2016 as Florida legalized medicinal marijuana at the ballot, her apparent change-of-heart appeared to be more a matter of political expediency than her suddenly seeing the light when it comes to weed—medicinal or otherwise.
As reported by Miami New Times, in 2014, Bondi was one of the most vociferous opponents of Florida’s medical pot measure (Amendment 2) that was ultimately beaten at the ballot. Bondi’s position is that medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which seems to make her a suitable choice as drug czar under this emerging administration.
As head of the ONDCP, Bondi would have a large hand in shaping the direction of prohibition in America, which could include resumption of enforcing archaic federal pot laws and raiding legitimate cannabis companies from coast to coast.
7. Dr. Ben Carson—Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (pending Senate confirmation)
There’s no denying Carson is a brilliant, innovative physician—but when it comes to pot, he’s still living in the past. In November 2015, when appearing in Florida as the then-front-runner for the GOP nomination eventually captured by Trump, Carson voiced his opposition to recreational cannabis.
He does support CBD for anti-seizure treatments, but is clueless when it comes to cannabis, erroneously terming weed a “gateway drug,” a theory long since debunked by medical science (alcohol is the true “gateway drug”). As detailed by On The Issues.org, Carson promised to intensify the War on Drugs, which is the last thing America needs right now.
8. Nikki Haley—Ambassador to the United Nations (appointed by Trump, no vote necessary)
As governor of South Carolina in 2014, Haley stated, “For marijuana reform, I’m not there.” Not the most optimistic comment cannabis activists want to hear from the woman who will now work with the intergovernmental organization that determines global drug policy.
According to a 1961 United Nations charter, cannabis remains criminalized the world over. While it’s true Haley did sign a CBD bill into law in 2014, her complete lack of interest in reforming cannabis laws does not indicate much progress will be made in amending the U.N.’s outdated stance on pot.
9. Neil Gorsuch—Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (pending Senate approval)
As noted by Extract.Suntimes, Gorsuch is a Scalia clone, which hardly bodes well for legal weed. Mainstream media has bent over backwards praising Gorsuch as a “strict constructionist” when it comes to interpreting the Constitution. However, like the late Justice Scalia, Gorsuch’s anti-pot bias could have him conveniently ignoring the fact the Constitution does not allow the federal government to require states to enforce federal criminal laws, as detailed by Business Insider.
That Gorsuch was first made a U.S. Attorney by George W. Bush in 2006 indicates his conservative bias. Gorsuch’s previous judicial rulings have tended to prioritize federal pot prohibition over states’ legalization. Another hypocrisy is that Gorsuch is a strong defender of religious freedoms, for example, siding with Christian employers who objected to Obamacare’s contraception mandate—yet Gorsuch withholds extending those same protections towards the use of cannabis as a sacrament, ruling against a couple busted for weed who maintained they used it for religious purposes.
Where does Trump personally and politically stand on the issue of legal weed? Not surprisingly, it’s contradictory.
While he’s made some statements that seem to be pro-state’s rights, his choice of appointees in the key agencies and departments that could influence federal marijuana policy seem to indicate a rollback to the pot prohibition days. Trump has also made disturbing comments related to drug reform; on February 7, in a round-table meeting with county sheriffs, Trump quipped “we’ll destroy his career,” referring to a state senator in Texas who wants to introduce legislation which would require a conviction in a drug-related case before the local government can practice civil forfeiture and seize a suspect’s assets.
On the other hand, some analysts have opined the money in legal marijuana is too big to stop now, and if there’s one thing we know that motivates Trump, it’s moolah.