Potheads and medicinal-marijuana users alike may be getting some coal in their pipes in the new year.
While President-elect Donald Trump promised to allow states to keep their vast array of marijuana laws if he were elected, he’s also tapped some of Washington’s biggest marijuana foes to serve in his Cabinet. If confirmed, they would have the power to enforce the federal marijuana prohibition that supersedes states’ legalization efforts.
This past spring, his pick to be the next attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), told Politico, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Sessions alone could redirect the Drug Enforcement Administration to go after legal marijuana growers in states from Maine to Alaska.
Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD), who has waged his own personal war on drugs from the House floor, has been floated as a potential pick to run the National Institutes of Health. And Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), who has a long anti-marijuana voting record, has been tapped to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.
When asked by The Daily Beast at the Capitol if medical marijuana has any role in the nation’s health-care system, Price just smiled coyly, shook his head disapprovingly and walked away.
The silence was deafening, and pot advocates fear it’s a harbinger of things to come.
Still, Trump allies, just weeks out from taking the helm of the nation, argue it’s too soon to tell if the incoming administration will crack down on states’ legal marijuana efforts.
“People may be extrapolating that, but I think that’s getting the cart before the horse,” Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) told The Daily Beast. “I would tell you right now the transition team is totally focused on personnel. Policies are not what’s really being discussed now.”
That policy vacuum, coupled with Trump’s picks to run agencies who oversee the nation’s disparate marijuana policies, are raising red flags on Capitol Hill, in grow rooms, and dispensaries across the nation, especially because Trump has proved himself malleable on most every campaign promise he’s made at his rallies or in his late night Twitter storms.
“That’s worrisome,” Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) told The Daily Beast. “It’s true that his positions on a variety of issues fluctuate, so we are concerned for consumers and for the cannabis industry that the new attorney general could engage in some kind of mass enforcement effort.”
“We do want to hold President Trump to what he said during the campaign, which is that this is a matter for the states,” Polis continued. “That’s been contrary to Sen. Sessions’s previous position, but now that he works for president-elect Trump I’m hopeful that he will honor the promises that were made by Donald Trump during the campaign.”
In recent years, marijuana has become an issue that cuts across party lines, especially with the rise of the more states’ rights-oriented Tea Party, so the debate could pit Republicans against Republicans.
“Jeff Sessions is a very honorable man, he’s a man of integrity, but he’s also principled,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) told The Daily Beast. “And what are his principles? Limited government, individual responsibility, how about the 10th Amendment and states’ rights?”
Rohrabacher said it would be a mistake for the incoming administration to go after states over pot policy.
“Absolutely. It’s a tremendous waste of resources, and No. 2 it is a violation of fundamental rules of liberty and justice,” Rohrabacher said. “People voted for that, and the states should have the right to make the determination. Our Constitution is very clear on that type of thing.”
With Trump about to be surrounded by some of the loudest anti-marijuana voices in Washington, there seems to be more haze in the air than just the billowing clouds from local residents’ legal bong hits.
“We’re entering into a period of uncertainty. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen,” Tom Angell, founder and chairman of the Marijuana Majority—a pot advocacy group, told The Daily Beast. “There does appear to be some conflict within the administration—some daylight between what Trump has said and what people like Sen. Sessions might prefer to do if they had their druthers.”
But Angell argued the American people are on his side, and he offered a thinly veiled threat to incoming anti-marijuana hardliners who may try to sway President-elect Trump over to their side of the issue. He argued Trump would be wise to look past their rigid advice and thumb through some recent pot polls.
“Even though he’s not a policy guy, he is a politics guy; he’s a guy who pays attention to the polls, and, frankly, the polls show we’re way more popular than he is right now,” Angell said with a laugh. “So coming for us isn’t going to bode well for his polling numbers.”