As the Donald Trump cabinet continues to take form, concerns continue to be raised by the nation’s cannabis activists over Trump’s pick for Attorney General, Alabama junior Senator Jeff Sessions. These concerns are triggered by past comments made by Sessions on the topic of marijuana legalization, coupled with the very real power he will be granted once he takes his role in Donald Trump’s cabinet as head of the Justice Department.
Speaking at an April 5, 2016 Senate hearing on marijuana legalization, future Trump cabinet member Sessions made his views on cannabis legalization plainly clear. He is not a fan.
“We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized,” Donald Trump’s future cabinet member remarked before fellow members of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.
Donald Trump’s pick for Attorney General also praised Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug “Just Say No” program in the same hearing. That program is widely seen as the apotheosis of the U.S. Federal Government’s war on drugs.
These firm prohibitionist views should raise immediate red flags for anyone who feels that states should have sole jurisdiction over the use, cultivation, and sale of cannabis within their own borders and would like to see such views reflected in Donald Trump’s cabinet. As reported in today’s New York Times, the Attorney General has the power to rescind at will the Cole and Ogden memos, two Obama-era Justice Department orders which put the brakes on federal marijuana-related prosecutions, according to policy expert John Hudak of the Brookings Institution. The Ogden memo was written in 2011 to de-prioritize federal crackdowns on licensed cannabis businesses in states where marijuana had been legalized for medical use, while the Cole memo, written in 2013 in the wake of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington, specifically intends to refocus federal priorities on other areas relating to marijuana that the Justice Department at the time saw as a better use of limited resources, such as preventing the sale of marijuana to minors and combatting profit avenues for gangs and drug cartels.
With Sessions heading the Justice Department in a Donald Trump cabinet, these memos could essentially disappear, and it is reasonable to speculate a round of heavy federal enforcement could emerge in their wake. Donald Trump’s own words on the subject of marijuana legalization throughout his campaign provide a mixed level of comfort for anyone who might hope that his administration will minimize federal interference in state efforts to regulate cannabis. As reported on the website Business Insider, while Trump during his campaign did express a desire to leave marijuana regulation and enforcement up to the states, he also sees Colorado’s cannabis industry as problematic. Donald Trump’s association with anti-marijuana politicians like Sessions and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence also indicates cannabis policy is not an issue of major concern for the future President and his cabinet choices thus far have done nothing to ease any fears.
Despite valid concerns, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of cannabis rights in the United States, even under a Donald Trump administration. On election day 2016, four states voted in statewide referendums to legalize the recreational use and sale of recreational marijuana. Voters in Maine, Nevada, Massachusetts, and California all decided their states would regulate and tax cannabis in the near future. Three other states voted yes on medical marijuana initiatives. Donald Trump himself once advocated for legalizing all drugs during a Miami Herald luncheon, condemning the drug war as a joke and extolling the tax dollars that could be gained by regulating the sale of narcotics, according to a report in the Daily Beast. Perhaps a Donald Trump cabinet will reflect these views, but that remains to be seen.