The near-continuous rank speculation that’s been a way of life in America since the early-morning hours of Nov. 9 ends today. At noon, Donald J. Trump took the oath of office and was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. He’ll now have access to the @POTUS Twitter handle and the nuclear codes—perhaps using one to announce, in real time, what he plans to do with the other—and then sometime, maybe this afternoon, maybe over the weekend, in between presiding over inaugural balls or empowering alt-right internet trolls, President Trump will get around to figuring out exactly what he’s going to do about all those grandiose (and, in some cases, unconstitutional) campaign promises.
So where, exactly, do drug policy reform and the country’s marijuana industry fit into making America great again?
Already dealing with a president in open conflict with his own country’s intelligence community, who has a defense policy that’s driven deep fear into many of America’s oldest allies, it may be hard for much of the country to care about drug policy. But there is much at stake.
Under Barack Obama, America has taken strides on how it views marijuana use and drug-related crime and punishment that were nearly inconceivable in 2008. Obama commuted the prison sentences of a record number of nonviolent drug offenders and was small-C conservative on marijuana legalization, largely letting states do their thing and experiment with legal cannabis sales without federal interference.
Since Trump has sworn to undo just about every other Obama administration accomplishment, from trade agreements to climate-change protections to the nuclear deal with Iran, it’s absolutely fair to assume that lax enforcement of federal drug laws and an unprecedented turn towards leniency for drug war prisoners are also at risk.
While it would take an army of police, prosecutors and bureaucrats to dismantle the country’s multibillion-dollar cannabis industry—like the army of authorities Trump promises to unleash on the country’s undocumented immigrants—a Trump administration could easily make things more difficult with far less effort. And, based upon the record of Trump’s inner circle and what (admittedly little) administration figures have said to date, it likely will.
“The incoming Trump administration may usher in a more hostile climate to state efforts to legalize the sale and distribution of marijuana and products that contain the drug,” as attorney Marc E. Sorini, a partner at Washington, D.C.-based law firm McDermott Will & Emery LLP, put it in an article in the National Law Review. “The Department of Justice may be less restrained under an Attorney General Sessions in its enforcement of federal drug laws against persons operating in states that have legalized marijuana.”
That doesn’t sound like an impending apocalypse, but keep in mind Sorini is writing like a lawyer whose every word will suffer scrutiny in court. Make no mistake, this is a negative outlook, and it’s one based on Trump’s limited words on weed over the past two years, and the absolutely terrifying (if you’re a pothead) prospect of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general.
First, the president himself.
Colorado recorded more than $1.3 billion in legal cannabis sales in 2016. Other states are planning similar bonanzas—a necessary strategy if Trump cuts federal funding over illegal immigration or for no reason at all. As for Colorado’s nation-leading experiment, “I’d say it’s bad,” Trump said at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Trump did say that he’s behind medical marijuana “100 percent”—which is nice to hear, considering how hostile some of his allies in state office have been—but legalization is causing “some big problems… causing a lot of problems.” Just what those problems are he doesn’t say. Not that it would matter.
And Sessions. Oh, Jeff Sessions.
An early Trump supporter who was rejected for a federal judgeship more than 30 years ago over fears that his views on race aren’t exactly, shall we say, of this century, the Alabama senator sailed through two days of Senate confirmation hearings without saying much of anything at all about what he’d do about the constant and flagrant violations of federal drug policy going on every day in more than half the country—aside from issue an ominous tautology. The law is the law, he said, and as A.G., he’d enforce the law.
Not that he needed to say anything more, as we know exactly what he thinks.
In 2014, Sessions said he was “heartbroken” by Obama’s assertion, generally accepted as fact by the scientific community as well as a majority of the American public, that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. He’s been a constant critic of relaxed drug sentences, is a big fan of mandatory minimums and in 2015, once suggested, inaccurately, that states who had legalized cannabis were now “re-criminalizing.” No state is considering anything of the sort, but might if Sessions has a bad day and decides to send in the jackboots.
But will he? Will he or Trump even bother to touch marijuana? They absolutely could. And if they do, it will be for the worse.
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