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Legalization in Trump’s America: Skating on Thin Ice

The easiest conclusion to draw from the soup of contradictory statements and outright untruths is that the Trump Administration doesn’t have a marijuana policy, leaving each Cabinet-level post to do and say as it pleases.
PHOTO Gage Skidmore

In The Magazine

Legalization in Trump’s America: Skating on Thin Ice

With an aggressive executive branch openly defying constitutional checks on its authority and installing noted prohibitionists in key positions, will the Trump administration make America raid again?

The cannabis industry’s general policy seems to be avoidance of “bad vibes” at all costs —  even when that means ignoring the pounding vibrations of an oncoming freight train. The first few weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency have revealed an unprecedented disregard for the constitutional checks and balances on the executive branch. That doesn’t bode well for an industry already precariously balanced on a tenuous high-wire of precedents, amendments and memos.

The problem isn’t just that Trump and key members of his cabinet have spoken out against legalization and in favor of enforcing federal drug law in decriminalized states, although they have — there are multiple layers to the fear and loathing the cannabis is (or should be) feeling about the future.

By now, anybody with even a cursory interest in cannabis policy news has heard the oft-quoted quip from new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, “Good people do not smoke marijuana.” This missive, though obviously inflammatory and false, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the new AG’s extreme prohibitionist stance on cannabis: as Alabama’s AG he pushed for legislation mandating death sentences for second-timed drug trafficking offenses — including cannabis.

It’s not even just that Trump rejected the rulings of four different federal judges who placed holds on deportations connected to his controversial “Muslim ban,” as disturbing as that is in its own right. It’s his administration’s justification, vis-a-vis spokesperson Kellyanne Conway, who attempted to undermine the authority of those judges by pointing out that they were “Obama appointees,” that should be giving the cannabis world pause.

For those of us counting on (or hoping for) the federal government to maintain the status quo — an uneasy peace between stagnant federal policy and the rapidly evolving sphere of state-level cannabis law — the implications of that partisan distinction are chilling.

Because the Department of Justice’s recent “hands off” approach to enforcement in legalized states is largely attributable to an “Obama appointee” — former Deputy AG James Cole.

There are other contributing legislative and legal factors, but on balance it’s the figurative federal ceasefire declared in the “Cole Memo” that’s offered decriminalized states — particularly adult use-legal states — breathing room to self-regulate with minimal fear of federal interference.

Now the future of that memo rests in the hands of America’s top cop; Jeff Sessions, a man NORML’s executive director, Erik Altieri, called “a true believer in outdated reefer madness rhetoric.”

And with Congress making forward motion on an estimated more than $10 billion construction project for a wall along the southern border with Mexico, it would appear that the Trump white house is sparing no expense in the realization of its national vision. Meaning those pointing to the massive cost of a national crackdown on cannabis as prohibitively expensive are — to parrot a previous Republican president — “misunderestimating” Trump and company.

Add to that the mix the uncertain stance of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, federal appellate judge Neil Gorsuch, on cannabis decriminalization and the future of legalization becomes even more nebulous.

The truth is, no matter what’s happened before, there’s no reliable way to predict what Trump’s administration will or won’t do when it comes to cannabis policy — or anything else. All we know for certain is that whatever action it does take is likely to be big, unilateral and loud.

Originally published in Issue 25 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

TELL US, do you think Trump’s administration will enforce federal law or continue their hands-off approach to cannabis?

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