John Hickenlooper has never been a huge fan of marijuana legalization. When Colorado voted to legalized marijuana in 2012, Hickenlooper, a former mayor of Denver who’s served as the state’s Democratic governor since 2010, was in the minority who voted against legal cannabis. Now, the country’s marijuana movement is hoping Hickenlooper is serious when he suggests that he likes Donald Trump messing with him and his state even less than the reefer.
On Sunday, Hickenlooper appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press to utter the great conservative mantra—states’ rights—and declared, if in the most passive-aggressive (read: mainstream Democratic) way possible, his intent to abide by his oath of office and defend Colorado from all threats, foreign and domestic, even if that threat is the federal government and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Our voters passed [marijuana legalization] 55-45. It’s in our constitution,” Hickenlooper told moderator Chuck Todd. “It’s in our constitution, and I took a solemn oath to support our constitution.”
Not that Hickenlooper, whom Todd fingered as a possible presidential candidate in 2020, is planning to be the first man on the barricades if Sessions and the DEA come knocking. After all, it’s “unclear” if Sessions could follow through on a series of increasingly menacing statements about enforcing federal marijuana law—and, for that matter, Hickenlooper isn’t quite yet in support of recreational marijuana personally yet.
The cannabis world has been on high alert since Trump selected Sessions, a controversial former Alabama senator who favors mandatory minimum sentences and other failed hard-line drug war tactics, to lead the U.S. Justice Department. Tensions were heightened even further with Trump press secretary Sean Spicer’s offhand remark last week that adult-use marijuana states could “see greater enforcement,” and Sessions upped the ante even further on Monday and Tuesday.
The attorney general declared America would not be a better place if “marijuana is sold at every corner grocery store”—where, for the record, it is not currently sold, except illegally—and dismissed the growing body of scientific evidence that cannabis, a great tonic for chronic pain, could be a bulwark against the country’s raging epidemic of opiate abuse, which has its roots in prescription pain pills.
“My best view,” Session said, “is that we don’t need to be legalizing marijuana.”
Marijuana is clearly in need of a hero and champion in its hour of need, an hour that could well last until Trump is out of office, or until the strings of law enforcement are out of the hands of avowed drug warriors like the antebellum good ole boy currently running things.
If Hickenlooper won’t rally the troops and reassure his state that the industry that just supported $1.3 billion in legal sales is safe, officials in California—the place in the lower 48 states furthest away from Donald Trump in both mind and location—may take the lead, with help from the same lawyers who just beat Team Trump on the president’s much-ballyhooed travel ban.
Last week, officials reacted to Spicer’s comments by declaring that California’s marijuana industry would behave as if Donald Trump didn’t exist… at least for the moment. State officials would continue laying the framework for full regulation and oversight of commercial sales of both medical and recreational marijuana—and are still planning to allow dispensaries to sell to anyone 21 years or older on Jan. 1, 2018.
“Until we see any sort of formal plan from the federal government, it’s full speed ahead for us,” Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, told the Los Angeles Times.
One of the strongest reactions has come from Xavier Becerra, California’s new attorney general. Like Hickenlooper, Becerra invoked the oath to defend the state.
“If there is action from the federal government on this subject, I will respond in an appropriate way to protect the interest of California,” he said in a statement.
Becerra may likely huddle with Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson, one of the lawyers responsible for beating Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s travel ban in federal court earlier this month, and plot a similar strategy to enjoin the feds from cracking down on weed.
Ferguson and Washington Governor Jay Inslee have requested a meeting with Sessions to explain how recreational weed works, according to the Times, though the attorney general is under no obligation to host the people who just kicked his boss’s ass, let alone listen to them.
Perhaps the greatest hope for weed is the Guantanamo-loving, former Ted Cruz supporter who uses medical marijuana to soothe an old surfing injury. U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is the co-author of a congressional budget amendment that prohibits the spending of federal dollars on enforcing federal marijuana laws on operators that follow state medical marijuana law.
Rohrabacher plans to expand that protection to law-abiding recreational marijuana as well, a spokesman told the Times.
But maybe marijuana will be OK with statements even as lukewarm as Hickenlooper’s. Trump may need help more than cannabis.
As drug policy expert Mark Kleinman observed recently, there are but 4,000 DEA agents around the world and a similarly limited number of Justice Department lawyers. DOJ officials would need to be pulled away from cracking down on immigrants to start busting weed.
As long as cannabis isn’t betrayed by quisling collaborators, everything could be OK—but unfortunately, there are plenty of local and state cops who might welcome a Sessions-led invasion with open arms.