President-elect Donald Trump was far from the most pro marijuana candidate running for President this past year, and now that he's won the White House, cannabis advocates are worrying that his appointment of anti-marijuana supporter Jeff Sessions to Attorney General could derail recent advances. Is Sessions going to put a kibosh on marijuana's momentum?
Ahead of the November elections, four states had already passed recreational marijuana laws and 25 states had already passed medical marijuana laws. After the election, four more states now have recreational marijuana laws (California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada) on the books, and another four states have legalized medical marijuana, including Florida.
The election night wins are the latest in what has been a sweeping change in how the average American views marijuana. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans favoring marijuana legalization has grown from 15% in the early 1970s to about 60% today.
Despite marijuana's momentum, considerable roadblocks to legal marijuana remain. Perhaps the biggest of these obstacles is the DEA's ongoing classification of marijuana as a scheduled 1 drug.
This past summer, the DEA considered changing how it schedules the drug, but discussions with the FDA that left the DEA without scientific proof of marijuana's benefit as medicine caused the agency to maintain marijuana's schedule 1 status. Unfortunately, that designation makes it difficult for marijuana dispensaries to conduct business by limiting their access to banking services. It also leaves the door open for the federal government to over-rule state laws and enforce federal anti-marijuana rules.
The next war on drugs?
Trump's planned appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General is worrisome to marijuana advocates because Sessions' has been very vocal in the past about his opposition to legal marijuana.
Sessions has applauded former President Ronald Reagan's war on drugs and in April, he said, "We need grownups in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger."
He followed that comment up with "good people don't smoke marijuana."
Sessions role as top dog at the DEA, FBI, and U.S. attorneys makes him potentially a major thorn in the marijuana industry's side.
Following the legalization of marijuana in Colorado a few short years ago, the Department of Justice issued a memorandum to U.S. attorney's that outlined how it would approach marijuana in states that have legalized it. Broadly, the memorandum directed prosecutors to focus on eight areas of enforcement, including the distribution to minors, rather than on individual possession by adults.
The approach under President Barack Obama's DOJ could end up being discarded when Sessions takes the helm as Attorney General, upending years of advancement in individual states, including Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.
Trump may not be marijuana's biggest supporter, but he wasn't its greatest enemy on the campaign trail either. Generally, Trump tends to support state rights and if he governs that way, then Trump may not be eager to embrace policies that appear to trample upon the individual states decisions regarding marijuana.
Although Trump may not endorse a broad anti-marijuana brushstroke, that doesn't necessarily mean that Sessions can't make life difficult for marijuana market participants in states that have legalized it. At a minimum, his appointment suggests that federal policies regarding marijuana won't ease anytime soon.