Marijuana was almost certainly the last thing on Donald Trump’s mind when he fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with Matthew Whitaker, a Trump loyalist who had served as Sessions’ chief of staff (and as Trump’s “eyes and ears” in the Justice Department).
We know cannabis was a low priority, tied only with the infinite number of other things in this world and the next that are not Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller’s investigation into the Trump Organization and Trump campaign’s possible campaign violations and ties to Russian intelligence, because Trump has told us so, time and again.
No matter what that marijuana entrepreneur in your social media feed is posting, it is beyond obvious that Sessions was fired because he wouldn’t fire Mueller — triggering a serious constitutional crisis in the process, something that was beyond even Sessions’ ken — and that Whitaker, who once served on the board of a company that the Federal Trade Commission revealed to be a criminal enterprise, is in his position, running the Justice Department, solely to get in Mueller’s way — possibly in ways that Whitaker has already mentioned, live on CNN.
Whitaker may or may not serve for a while. This is Trump world — nobody can say. In a recent ramble with the Daily Caller, the president declined to name any potential long-term replacements. In the past, however, Trump has floated two familiar names, neither of which should inspire any investor confidence or sanguine Facebook posts: Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and current Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Both have well-established records on cannabis. Both are really notably awful.
Christie, who debased himself by jumping on the Trump train early only to find himself auditioning for a job as a talk-radio host rather than one in Washington — and secured neither — once said that if elected president, he would sic the Justice Department on states like Colorado that legalized marijuana, and frequently referred to cannabis as a gateway drug while justifying denying it to sick people.
Christie has many flaws, but opportunistic pliability is apparently not one of them: In a more recent interview, Christie said “states have the right to do what they want on this.” That’s a far cry from endorsing full-scale federal marijuana legalization — or allowing banks to accept marijuana-related accounts, or allowing marijuana businesses to be taxed like normal businesses, or any of the other numerous reforms the industry needs — but it’s progress. Whether Christie would act on that statement (or whether he ever gets within a mile of the Justice Department except for the public tour) is far from certain. Maybe even unlikely! Christie is, well, kind of a loser, and Trump isn’t so big on losers.
As for Bondi, she is attorney general of Florida, a state that approved medical marijuana by an overwhelming margin on the night Trump was elected in 2016. She is also the attorney general whose office is fighting against a raft of lawsuits brought by marijuana advocates who say that medical cannabis in Florida is unworkable. In August, Bondi’s office filed a 57-page brief, full of very good and rational arguments why Floridians shouldn’t be allowed to access marijuana in its simplest, cheapest, and most recognizable form.
Bondi was first elected to the post in 2010 and will be soon termed out. She would seem to be a better fit to join Team Trump than Christie, who has been out of politics and, well, sort of irrelevant since his exit from the governor’s mansion.
Whomever Trump appoints, it doesn’t appear likely they will tamper with the country’s marijuana legalization experiment. Doing so would be a costly and vastly unpopular mess. It would trigger outrage among Republicans, it would give Trump’s opponents yet another club to hit him with. It would be a real loser! If it didn’t happen under Sessions, it is likely to never happen.
But will they speed legalization along? If cannabis ended the Mueller investigation, Trump would have done so in summer 2017. Since marijuana does not do that, it’s probably savvier to consider whom Trump counsels for advice — his family, cabinet and top advisors. Marijuana prohibition is ending; it’s a question of when. It will also be a question of after — after Christie, after Bondi, after Trump’s attention is not absorbed with, alternately, the Mueller probe or whatever is it front of him at that particular moment. At the same time, if “Fox and Friends”launches a “The president should legalize marijuana” segment, all bets are off.
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