D.C. Protests Possible Cannabis Crackdown

Washington D.C. has been a major player in the movement to decriminalize cannabis, and now that a new administration is taking to the White House, concerns about president elect Trump's DOJ appointment of anti-cannabis senator Jeff Sessions have inspired protests.

Safe access advocates in Washington, D.C. took their pro-cannabis message directly to controversial Attorney General appointee, Senator Jeff Sessions, urging him to reconsider his controversial statement that “good people don’t smoke marijuana and to refrain from cracking down on state-legal cannabis. But will their efforts be enough to change the will-be AG’s mind, and is there actually a cannabis crackdown coming?

Maybe Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III — the Republican junior senator from Alabama —  isn’t so bad. Maybe “the single biggest opponent to marijuana legalization in the U.S. Senate” can be made to see the light on drug-policy reform, and be convinced not to sic the Justice Department’s dogs on states that have legalized recreational and medical cannabis. 

Maybe he really doesn’t believe, as he said in an April Senate hearing, that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

But if cannabis advocates are hoping to stall or deflect what they see as an inevitable federal crackdown on weed from Donald Trump’s attorney general, they may need to deploy a strategy above and beyond their latest strategy — gifting Sessions a red t-shirt.

Washington, D.C.-based marijuana advocates descended on the U.S. Capitol, Monday, Nov. 28, for the first of what is certain to be many cannabis-focused protests of Trump’s choice for head of the DOJ.

Representatives from DCMJ, the group behind the voter referendum that legalized cannabis in the nation’s capital, managed to score a meeting with Sessions staffers as part of the protests they’re calling “Smoke Sessions.”

They voiced their concerns and left behind a t-shirt for the senator, printed with the slogan, “Great Americans evolve on issues like cannabis,” a callback to his controversial statements on “good people” and cannabis use. 

Sessions has in the past called for increased enforcement of federal marijuana laws — which have remained stringent in their prohibition of all cannabis use —  even as the majority of states have legalized medical marijuana, and adult-use cannabis has become the law of the land in eight more states.

But is a nationwide crackdown practical? It would require a significant portion of the DOJ’s time and energy, and judging by the bipartisan support for cannabis decriminalization among voters, it would also be massively unpopular.

In an interview with Seattle’s Morning News, Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna voiced his skepticism about Sessions launching a meaningful anti-cannabis crusade.

“So is this the fight they really want to have?” he asked. “He’s got to decide what his priorities are and whether the fight is worth it.”

What fights Sessions will decide are worth it is a matter of pure conjecture. But there are some predictions rooted in fact as to how he’d go about doing it if he did decide to crack down on cannabis. 

They are: Raids, taxes, and regulation.

The first is the most obvious — and least likely. Can the DOJ really afford to deploy enough DEA shock troops to squash legal weed, in an era when there are more weed dispensaries in Denver than Starbucks locations?

In an interview with CBS News, former Washington state U.S. Attorney, John McKay, said he thinks the answer to that question is a resounding “no.”

“They are going to stop doing terrorism investigations and start arresting people for pot?” he asked. “That, to me, is crazy.”

Much likelier is a Sessions DOJ punishing cannabis with paper-pushers rather than police. They can strictly enforce the existing tax code, which makes it difficult for weed businesses to declare expenses, and continue enforcing federal regulations that make it near-impossible for marijuana businesses to bank. They can also pressure the states to over-regulate marijuana businesses into oblivion, possibly with federal money — or the threat of losing it — as a combination carrot-and-stick.

But in this, marijuana businesses may have an unlikely ally — their state and local governments. Because they’re the ones soaking up the flood of new tax revenue from recreational and medical marijuana sales. And all of Sessions threats may not amount to much when money talks with one voice. 

That’s why, in an interview with MyNorthwest.comSeattle-based cannabis businessman Ian Eisenberg, said all the worry over Sessions may be more smoke than fire.

“There’s a lot of doom and gloom going around that Sessions, being the attorney general, will go after states for medical and recreational pot,” he said. “I’m not one of those people. It’s possible, but it’s not likely.”

TELL US, do you think the new DOJ will crack down on cannabis?

Chris Roberts has written about medical cannabis, drug policy, and legalization ever since spending a few months in Humboldt County in 2009, with bylines for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and SF Weekly. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cbloggy.

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