Legally speaking, nowhere in America is medical marijuana more at risk of falling victim to a Donald Trump-led federal crackdown than in Indiana and North Dakota.
Not that there’s much in the way of medical cannabis in either state at the moment—or any legal marijuana all, really. The two red states are very recent converts: North Dakota has just begun to try to figure out how to deliver medical marijuana to the voters who approved it at the ballot on Election Day—with the first legal crop available to no more than a few thousand patients, and that is in a year’s time or more.
And in Indiana, home state of Vice President Mike Pence—where the mere sight of legally purchased marijuana edibles sets off a regional panic and where the ACLU has to become involved just so local marijuana activists can have a rally—Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has just signed into law a bill allowing CBD products only (which is to say that Texas is further along on medical weed than Indiana).
But since both states are conspicuously absent from a medical-marijuana rider bill—part of last week’s $1.1 spending package that will keep the federal government open until September—both states may lack the cover from federal crackdowns enjoyed in places where cannabis is a billion-dollar business (and a billion-dollar reminder of how irrelevant and impotent the Justice Department is on the marijuana question).
Since 2014, Congress has denied the DOJ any funding to go after state-legal medical marijuana programs. As federal district and appeals courts have found, this budget amendment—originally named for U.S. Reps. Sam Farr and Dana Rohrabacher—absolutely protects state-law abiding medical marijuana patients, programs and cultivators from unwanted federal raids and prosecutions. This peace will last at least until September 30, when a temporary spending bill agreed to last week to avoid a government shutdown expires.
Forty-four states and several U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and Guam, are named in the amendment. But for some reason, Indiana and North Dakota were not listed, as MassRoots.com’s Tom Angell reported. The glaring omission now has some experts wondering if it won’t be exploited by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has made his great distaste for marijuana in any form well known.
“I think it is concerning that North Dakota’s brand-new law might be treated differently as a result of this,” Tim Purdon, a former U.S. attorney in North Dakota from 2010 to 2015, told U.S. News. “You just hope DOJ and folks wouldn’t take advantage of what appears to be a mistake or some kind of loophole.”
Right now, there appears to be little more than confusion on all fronts—confusion as to how the error was allowed to sail through unnoticed, including by the amendment’s authors, and confusion as to what, if anything, the error means.
As U.S. News reported, the omission was an unexplained, unpleasant surprise to Rohrabacher’s staff.
“We don’t know” how it happened, spokesman Ken Grubbs told the magazine. As for how it will be used, federal authorities are either unsure or unwilling to say.
As per U.S. News:
A spokeswoman for the North Dakota attorney general’s office referred questions to the office of the U.S. attorney for North Dakota, which was not immediately able to comment.
The Indiana attorney general’s office says it is reviewing the matter. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in southern Indiana did not immediately respond to an inquiry, and a spokesman for the northern Indiana office referred questions to the Justice Department press office.
The omission blunder is the latest vague-yet-troubling sling suffered by medical marijuana in America under President Trump.
Trump was a vocal supporter of marijuana while on the campaign trail, but has filled his Cabinet with avowed foes of liberalized drug laws. Even so, bellicose statements from Sessions and White House spokesman Sean Spicer have been followed up by conciliatory admissions, like Sessions telling Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper that he’ll probably continue Obama-era policies of letting weed be.
If a crackdown were to be limited to two red states where cannabis barely exists, it would be a bizarre sideshow that would cost Team Trump untold political capital for imperceptible gains. And Sessions already has ample tools—including the undeniable legal right—with which to mess with bigger fish, like the burgeoning commercial cannabis sectors in the seven states where recreational marijuana is legal.
So Indiana and North Dakota probably have little to fear, aside from climate change, Russian spies and the rest of the angst that comes with living in Trump’s America.