Despite claims of Russian meddling with the election and the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, more than 270 Electoral College members voted for Donald Trump, paving the way for the 2016 presidential election results to be certified on January 6th by Congress. President-elect Trump will officially be sworn in on January 20th.
The surprise election of Donald Trump has sent shockwaves across the cannabis community, just as it did the rest of the world. With Hillary Clinton, for the most part, members of the cannabis industry expected a continuation of President Obama’s relative hands off approach of letting the states maintain their own cannabis policies, although some worry about Big Pharma if marijuana is rescheduled to Schedule II. The concerns about Clinton are moot now as the cannabis community must remain vigilant in the face of a conservative Trump cabinet, particularly Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Some members of the cannabis law reform community, like the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), are mobilizing to fight the nomination of Jeff Sessions, basically joining The New York Times in considering the Sessions nomination “an insult to justice.” There are other legalization supporters that expect the Trump Administration is unlikely to go after the cannabis industry, deciding to stick to the states’ rights position that the president-elect maintained during his campaign. Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher summed up his optimistic position in an interview with Marijuana Business Daily, stating ”This president has made clear that he believes in a states’ rights approach to marijuana. And if the president is in favor of a states’ rights approach to marijuana, I am certain that Jeff Sessions, being a man of high integrity, will not be undermining his president’s position and (will) be enforcing what Trump wants rather than what Sessions has done in the past.”
The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) has decided to send out an olive branch of sorts to Senator Sessions, stating that the group looks “forward to working with him to ensure that states’ rights and voter choices on cannabis are respected.” This moderate approach of NCIA and others doesn’t sit well with Slate’s Alex Halperin:
The legal marijuana industry, which is anticipated to top $6 billion in sales this year, also has reason to fear Sessions, but its response has been much more muted. The National Cannabis Industry Association, the industry’s largest lobby, released a statement saying that it looked forward to working with Attorney General Sessions. They think it’s safer to weather his tenure at the Justice Department than to fight it.
After the nomination, the pro-pot activist Tom Angell told BuzzFeed, “From a political lens, I think reversing course on [marijuana] and trying to shut down broadly popular state laws, that’s going to be a huge distraction from all the other things they care a lot more about,” Angell said. “It’s a fight that they don’t want to pick.” Put another way: Marijuana proponents believe that President Trump and Attorney General Sessions will be too busy tracking Muslims and deporting noncitizens to go after state-legal pot, which also happens to be more popular than not among Republicans. The industry expects the more vulnerable populations to function as its human shields.
Finally, opposing Jeff Sessions would be good for the industry’s image, at least in the blue and purple states it currently cares about. Cannabis executives love pontificating on the evils of the war on drugs; but while they might be on the right side of history, everywhere the industry arrives it faces criticism for greed and opportunism, compounded by distrust of its product and the people who sell it.
As someone who personally opposes Jeff Sessions’ nomination for a whole host of reasons, I sympathize with the position of the Drug Policy Alliance and Mr. Halperin (although I don’t support all of the claims Halperin makes about the cannabis industry in his Slate piece.) On the other hand, as someone who is working to implement sensible cannabis policies both for the general public and the industry, I can see NCIA’s point of view of reaching out to Sessions and appealing to his conservative ideology that should embrace states’ rights and entrepreneurship.
I definitely agree with Tom Angell in that picking a fight with voter-enacted laws doesn’t seem to be wise political move for the Trump Administration, who surely wants to remain competitive in Colorado in his 2020 reelection bid. Trying to shut down Colorado’s cannabis industry would eliminate the state from even thinking of going to Trump in 2020 and could even impact voters in Florida who just overwhelmingly voted to enact medical cannabis legalization and could be poised to legalize for all adults in the near future. At this moment, I’m willing to trust Congressman Rohrabacher, a Republican who was on Trump’s short list for secretary of state, as much as anyone on the issue, but the fact is no one can predict what the Trump Administration will do on cannabis. Donald Trump himself probably doesn’t even know what his federal cannabis policy will be yet.
If you believe in cannabis legalization, then whether you oppose, support, or remain neutral to the nomination of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, it is imperative that you remain vigilant and work to push back against any inkling of federal interference with states’ cannabis laws. Alex Halperin is right that we must press our senators to ask tough questions about Session’s intentions as attorney general regarding medical and legalization laws around the country.
If Sessions goes on record as wanting to adhere to a states’ rights position, then the NCIA approach makes sense. If Sessions sounds anything like Chris Christie and proclaims, as Kevin Sabet wants him to do, that he will use federal power to disrupt state cannabis laws, then he must be opposed vehemently, as DPA has called for. And once in office, we must watch the Trump Administration like a hawk and push back against any federal meddling of states’ legalization laws.
President Obama didn’t start his administration off on the right foot, the strength of the cannabis community, and the mainstream support we enjoy across the country, forced the Obama Administration to change. We’re likely going to need to work even harder under the Trump Administration. I have no doubt about the long term prospects for cannabis legalization, but we must remain extremely vigilant to ensure that we don’t suffer any unnecessary setbacks and casualties.