On election day in November, I wrote a blog article outlining the states which were voting to legalize either recreational or medical marijuana. Eight states voted on election day to legalize marijuana in some form bringing the total number of states who legalized recreational marijuana to eight and medical marijuana to 29. 1 in 5 Americans now live in states where recreational pot is legal. National opinion favors the continued growth of the marijuana industry. Before the election, both candidates expressed support for medical marijuana at the very least. There currently is a policy by the federal government to not interfere with state intrastate commerce and the legal marijuana industry.
Following the election, President-elect Donald Trump nominated Senator Jeffrey Sessions of Alabama for attorney general. Senator Session is on the record as opposing the legalization of marijuana in any form. Sessions has called marijuana reform a “tragic mistake” and criticized FBI Director James Comey and Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch for not vigorously enforcing the federal prohibition. Earlier this year on the floor of the Senate, Senator Sessions said: “You can’t have the President of the United States of America talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink… It is different…. It is already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it legal.” Session further said, ”good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Such an antiquated way of thinking ignores the progress made by states with legal medical marijuana programs and shows no empathy for those individuals who currently benefit from medical marijuana. Sessions should spend a day with the cancer patient or the epileptic child who benefits from medical marijuana. His view also threatens to derail and drive the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry business back underground right at the time that it is starting to gain support in the legitimate investment world.
Other than the President–elect, there is no one with more power than Sessions to interrupt the growth the marijuana industry has experienced in the last two decades. The Justice Department under President Obama has been hands-off, issuing the Cole memos that basically say the federal government will not prosecute legal marijuana sellers or buyers in states where it is legal. As the new Attorney General, Senator Sessions could reverse the DOJ’s position and simply tear up the Cole Memos. With little more than the stroke of his pen, the new Attorney General could direct the enforcement of the federal law against marijuana and direct that federal law enforcement officers shut down legal marijuana operations and arrest growers, retailers and users.
Sessions would face at least one stumbling block in the the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to annual appropriations bills prohibits the Department of Justice and the DEA from using federal money to target or prosecute state-compliant medical marijuana businesses. The problem with Rohrabacher-Farr amendment is that it must be renewed annually with each budget or it will expire.
No one is certain what President-elect Trump will do with regards to the legalization of marijuana. Trump’s exact views on marijuana remain mixed at best. While campaigning, he has expressed support for medical marijuana. However, he has also stated the recreational marijuana is bad and has spoken of undocumented problems with recreational adult use in states like Colorado. What clouds things even things even further is Trump’s expressed support for a state’s right to govern themselves. He is on the record as saying if the state voter for it that’s the law in the state. Moreover, he has routinely touted himself as pro business and it seems unlikely that he would interfere with the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry.
Some have argued that it would be political suicide for the Trump administration to go against a campaign promise on a hugely popular issue that is widely supported by voters even Republicans. But the marijuana industry is worried. With the nomination of Senator Sessions, it is facing uncertainty that could become a very real threat to its growth.
Updated December 12. 2017. The U.S. Senate approved approved a stopgap federal spending measure to fund the government through April 28, 2017 which included renewal of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment.