During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump expressed “100% support” for medical marijuana and told the Washington Post “in terms of marijuana and legalization … I really believe we should leave it up to the states.”
So far, so good.
But since winning the election, Trump has been troublingly silent on the issue, while surrounding himself with some of the country’s loudest voices in opposition to cannabis. Starting with newly confirmed US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is now the nation’s top ranking law enforcement officer. Perhaps you’ve heard his greatest hits:
• “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
• “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.”
• “You can’t have the President of the United States of America talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink…”
And oh yeah, he once “joked” that he thought the KKK was “okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.” So there’s little question how Sessions will act if not restrained from above. And he’ll be far from the only prominent voice whispering in Trump’s ear that’s it’s time to re-ignite the War on Weed. Other Drug War hardliners pulled into the new administration include General John Kelly, presumptive Secretary of Homeland Security; Tom Price, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services; Sheldon Adelson and Mel Semble on the inauguration committee; presumptive EPA head Scott Pruitt, and a “Drug Czar” to be named later.
I don’t believe President Trump purposefully assembled this ominous collection of “human paraquats” (to borrow a phrase from The Big Lebowski) with an eye towards imposing an anti-marijuana agenda. Instead, I’d say the confluence is revealing of the way those with strongly authoritarian worldviews tend to (rightly) fear the cannabis plant—a mildly psychoactive and powerfully medicinal botanical which, among many other wonderful attributes, leads some people to question authority.
Meaning marijuana isn’t anti-establishment because it’s illegal—it’s illegal because it’s anti-establishment. But now, both marijuana legalization and Trump’s impending presidency have turned the very idea of what it means to be anti-establishment on its head. As one example, billionaire tech visionary Peter Thiel, another of the President’s top advisors, is heavily invested in legal cannabis.
So who can predict what comes next?
Prior assurances aside, Trump’s comments on cannabis haven’t always been consistent (making them at least consistent with his inconsistency).
“I say it’s bad,” he replied, when asked about Colorado’s recreational cannabis law at the 2015 CPAC conference. “Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think [recreational marijuana is] bad. And I feel strongly about that.”
Strongly enough to squash the will of the millions of Americans, in eight states, who’ve voted resoundingly in favor of adult-use legalization? Only time will tell. But let’s be clear, Trump’s choice isn’t between “marijuana” and “no marijuana”—people are going to grow, sell, buy and smoke pot no matter what the government says or does about it. That’s been long proven over the last hundred years of virulent marijuana prohibition. Think about it this way: since our first issue in 1974, HIGH TIMES has published exactly one feature article on a strictly regional marijuana shortage—a drought that proved decidedly brief.
No, Trump’s choice will be between a tightly regulated cannabis industry that creates hundreds of thousands of American jobs and pays untold billions in taxes, or very literally sending those jobs to Mexico, where violent, lawless drug cartels will gladly pick up the slack.
And they’d be grateful for the business, as cannabis legalization has lately put a sizable bite into cartel profits. According to Beau Kilmer, co-director of the Drug Policy Research Center at the Rand Corp., as recently as 2008, Mexico provided up to two-thirds of America’s domestic supply. But now experts estimate that market share to be cut in half, based on myriad reports of collapsing prices for Mexican marijuana. Also, the latest data from the U.S. Border Patrol shows pot seizures at the border tumbled to just 1.5 million pounds in 2015, down from nearly 4 million pounds in 2009.
Meanwhile, according to a report from the Marijuana Policy Group, in 2015 Colorado’s legal cannabis industry created over 18,000 new full-time jobs (a 68% bump from the previous year), generated $2.4 billion in economic activity, and brought in about $121 million in tax revenue. And you ain’t seen nothing yet, as the legal cannabis industry is poised to bring California’s massive economy on board, along with all the other states that just voted to legalize.
Unless, of course, President Trump decides to send those jobs South of the Border.