Will the Feds “Trump” marijuana? Looming concern and anxiety for Marijuana Supporters Nationwide By: Ryan Rooker


Until this point , who President-elect Donald Trump will appoint to his cabinet has been primarily based on rumors and preliminary lists. Over the past week however it has become increasingly more clear as to who a few of these candidates will more then likely be. On the list is Jeff Sessions, Alabama Senator for nearly two decades. To show you how favored he is in his home state, aside from his first election in 1996, he has never won with less then 59 percent of the vote. After Sessions became the first member of congress to endorse Trump in February, he has become an advisor on every major decision and policy proposal Trump made during the campaign. Including chairing the National Security Advisor committee, forming his immigration policy, and even advising Trump on a vice-presidential running mate. He himself was in the running for the position. While it seems Trump and Sessions might see eye to eye on everything, that is not the case. They both have a strong difference of opinion on infrastructure and foreign policy, as well as another huge issue… the official federal government stance on Marijuana.
In the past Sen. Sessions has been quoted saying,” Good people don’t smoke marijuana”. He even in a Senate hearing last April said, “ We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized. It ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger”. A clear outspoken advocate against marijuana reform, Sessions poses a huge threat to a nation where the majority have voted in favor of legalization.
Twenty years after California became the first legal medical marijuana state, there are now 28 states and the District of Columbia that are medical, and 8 states are now recreationally legal.
In 2013 the Obama administration sent a letter called the Cole Memo to the Justice Department establishing under what circumstances federal law enforcement should step in. In layman’s terms, the Cole Memo stated that the federal government will ignore marijuana businesses working in states with strong regulatory systems that take steps to keep marijuana out of the hands of kids and prevent drug cartels from profiting. The memo also specifically says though, that prosecutors retain the right to target the marijuana industry if there’s a “strong federal interest”. Congress also prohibited the Justice Department from using federal money to interfere with medical marijuana patients in states where it has been approved. This memo was considered a huge victory among marijuana activist and was really the green light for Colorado and Washington to put recreational marijuana on the ballot in November 2012. However an anti-marijuana attorney general, with motivation, could easily just overturn the memo. This has many supporters wondering what the future of marijuana looks like. Trump has been a long supporter of not only states rights but marijuana itself. Marijuana activists say the ‘pot experiment’ is to far along for anyone to stop it. However, Trumps potential nomination of Sessions as attorney general has made the industry as well as consumers anxious.
A few things could happen next.
First, the Justice Department could take the states to court, filing lawsuits based on the grounds that state laws regulating pot are unconstitutional because they are preempted by federal law. The government has rarely used its authority to sue states, but similarly in 2010, the Justice Department successfully sued the state of Arizona to block an immigration law that conflicted with federal immigration law. Federal courts also have the option to compel action , not just block it. Let it be noted that the Justice Department has yet to sue any of the 28 states or the District of Columbia, that are all medically legal.
Another potential possibility, is that the feds could avoid court all together if they are willing to pony up a lot of money on law-enforcement raids. The DEA could come in once again and start shutting down any business for legally selling or cultivating marijuana. The agency has said before however that it doesn’t have the resources to coordinate a federal attempt to close down pot producers in multiple states. In order to do so they would require more money from congress, which just saw many of its constituents vote in favor of legalization. Still, federal raids would send a chill through the industry and consumers, who have become comfortable since the Cole Memo, most likely upending the industry as well as deter investors.
Financial hurdles have been a part of the industry from the beginning and have only gotten worse. Marijuana businesses say they pay 80 percent or more of every dollar on taxes and fees. They also don’t benefit from the same tax breaks or incentives that other small businesses receive. Alongside all of this the access to banking is very limited because it is still federally illegal. As long as Congress, and the new administration keep those obstacles in place, marijuana businesses will grow at a wavering speed.
Stricter regulations would also be another route the federal government might take. Government officials who are critical of marijuana legalization but don’t want to go against public opinion might try to use regulation and red tape to halt the industry. Legalization opponents have long since sniveled about the strength of marijuana today. The federal government could potentially use this as a backdoor to try to block the marijuana industry. For example, last year in Colorado, marijuana opponents nearly succeeded at getting lawmakers to cap commercial marijuana potency. If it would have gone through, the proposal would have banned nearly 80 percent of the marijuana product on shelves.
Delays are always another way to slow things down. Business owners in many state have been given the run around for months even years waiting for approval for licenses and permits after submitting applications. In Alaska voters legalized marijuana in 2014, but shops are only just now opening. In Washington state, officials spent more than a year establishing rules for pot businesses before licenses and permits slowly began to be issued.
With Trump supporting states’ rights and in the past stating that he supports marijuana, he will be able to order Sessions to continue letting the states regulate themselves as far as marijuana. One can only hope appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president will stick to the president’s position on this subject. It certainly would be rather controversial if Sen. Sessions completely disobeys the president who appointed him.
Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45 president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2017 at noon. We will then find out exactly what the administration’s stance will officially be.