Despite Donald Trump’s campaign promises that he supported medical marijuana and would allow states to determine their own cannabis legalization laws, many Drug War reformers were extremely skeptical as the then-candidate was already known to be on both sides of many issues. Once Trump appointed Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General, legalization advocates were dismayed as Sessions has a long history as one of the worst Drug War warmongers in politics.
Our worst fears about AG Sessions started being realized by a few Reefer Madness-inspired comments here and there, culminating (we thought) in his repeal of the Cole Memo, the Obama Administration’s policy of allowing state-regulated businesses to operate without federal interference as long as several federal guidelines were followed. Unfortunately, Sessions, apparently at Trump’s direction, has exacerbated our nation’s War on Drugs by informing all US Attorneys that they should seek the death penalty against large-scale drug traffickers.
While Donald Trump’s call for the death penalty was announced as a part of his administration’s plan to address our nation’s opioid epidemic, large-scale traffickers of other controlled substances, including cannabis, can also face the death penalty under the policy. Cannabis providers selling or possessing 60,000 kilograms of products, cultivating 60,000 plants, or earning $20 million in a year could see federal prosecutors put the death penalty on the table.
It seems rather preposterous that Uncle Sam would execute cannabis growers, processors, and dispensary owners operating legally under state law, but the threat of the “ultimate penalty” could certainly convince defendants to accept lengthy prison sentences. On first glance, the weight and numbers appear unlikely to be reached by marijuana entrepreneurs, but Harborside Health Center in Oakland has reported bringing in about $30 million in annual revenue and US Attorneys are allowed to prosecute under numbers that they witness over time, as the tragic case of Dr. Mollie Fry and her husband Dale Schafer unfortunately demonstrated.
Many activists, myself included, opposed Donald Trump’s candidacy partly due to his authoritarianism. It has been worrisome witnessing Trump praise human rights abusers like Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte (whose Drug War has led to extrajudicial killings and vast corruption), and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Trump’s new death penalty directive is an example of him following the example of the draconian punishments levied in Singapore.
The recent omnibus spending bill signed by Trump does provide protection from federal prosecution for state-regulated medical cannabis providers, but Texas Republican Congressman Pete Sessions, as Chair of the House Rules Committee, has blocked any vote on extending protections for licensed recreational businesses. Pete Sessions is the target of Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s Cannabis Fund, a PAC designed to elect candidates with sensible policies on cannabis. Following the passage of the omnibus bill, Blumenauer blasted Jeff Sessions for “doubling down on the failed War on Drugs,” and called out Pete Sessions for “stonewalling” stating that, “Republican leadership is hopelessly out of touch, and they should be held accountable. I will not rest until Congress gets this right.”
Oregon’s legal structure may protect members of the Beaver State’s cannabis industry, as attorney Leland Berger (one of my activist mentors) stated, “I and others, take the view that all Oregon regulatory cannabis laws, including so-called “recreational” (adult use) cannabis laws, implement the medical program and fall within the protection of this budget amendment.” However, the risk is too great, and other states may not be set up like Oregon, to leave anything up to chance.
There have been a lot of warning signs regarding the dictatorial wishes of Donald Trump and this death penalty policy clearly crosses the line. It is imperative that the cannabis community, and everyone that believes in civil liberties, work hard to ensure that nonviolent people are protected from execution and that we don’t allow our nation to continue down a dangerous slippery slope towards an authoritarian government. We must, once and for all, end the federal prohibition of cannabis and stop a failed and harmful war that has been waged upon American citizens for far too long.
On our most recent Let’s Hash It Out podcast, our first topic is the Trump/Sessions’ Drug War death penalty policy and the medical cannabis protections contained in the omnibus spending bill: