President Donald Trump set an ambitious agenda in his first full week in office. After his inauguration on January 20, Trump signed an executive order that directs federal agencies to start rolling back the Affordable Care Act, revived two controversial oil pipelines, staged a war on the media, and played a game of chicken with the president of Mexico.
But we still don’t know much about Trump’s plans for marijuana legalization. There’s a pretty simple explanation for that uncertainty: His administration finds itself in a bit of a Catch-22.
When it comes to marijuana legalization, there are two basic paths Trump can choose from. He can try to stamp out the $6.8 billion legal marijuana industry, or support states’ rights to legislate their own drug policy.
Marijuana is regulated under federal law, which gives Trump and his administration the ability to upend programs in the US states that have legalized marijuana for medical use, recreation, or both. The Department of Justice can easily send “cease and desist” letters to companies that touch the plant. It’s unlikely Trump will take that route, however.
Support for marijuana legalization reached an all-time high in 2016. Sixty percent of Americans surveyed by the Gallup Poll last year said they favor outright legalization, up from 35% in 2005. Even Republicans, who traditionally oppose legalization, seem to be coming around to the idea.
Eight US states voted on marijuana legalization ballots in the 2016 Election. Five of them — Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota — turned red for Trump. Of those five, four states legalized cannabis in some form, the Marijuana Business Daily reports.
The results of the election tell us being a Republican and a marijuana legalization advocate are no longer mutually exclusive, if the labels ever were to begin with.
Tom Angell, chairman of pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority, told Business Insider in November that the new administration should recognize a “crackdown against broadly popular laws in a growing number of states would create huge political problems they don’t need.”
Alternatively, Trump could allow states to continue to ignore the drug’s federal status and regulate marijuana. That approach would potentially satisfy both conservatives who support legalization and conservatives who respect the political powers reserved for the state governments rather than the federal government under the US Constitution. The decision would leave marijuana legalization advocates on both sides of the aisle happy.
There is a middle ground. Trump might support states’ rights on paper, while finding other ways to undermine the legal marijuana industry. Many of these options are remnants of President Barack Obama’s administration, which was also soft on marijuana reform.
His administration may very well preserve marijuana’s Schedule I classification, which makes it difficult for scientists to get their hands on the drug for research.
The federal government might penalize banks that take money from companies that work in weed, and make it more difficult for those “ganjapreneurs” to do business. (While the Department of Justice largely stays out of the way of marijuana-focused companies that abide by state laws, few banks and credit unions take the risk of opening accounts for those entrepreneurs.)
The Department of Justice might shape the market by raiding a dispensary or two in states where they’re legal to operate, sending waves of fear throughout the industry.
It’s hard to predict how Trump will proceed. The real-estate billionaire has flip-flopped on the issue throughout his public life. He’s publicly stated his support for medical marijuana and states’ rights to regulate it, but his administration as yet to take a definitive stance.
His pick for US attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, is bad news for legal marijuana. Sessions said in an April Senate hearing on marijuana reform that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” The senator also pointed to a tenuous theory that marijuana is a gateway drug, and said that, “you’ll see cocaine and heroin increase more than it would have.”
But for now, it’s a safe bet that Trump will stick with the status quo and support states’ rights, giving one in five Americans with legal access to marijuana the green-light to light up.
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