Say what you will about the Trump administration but don’t ever say they take their time. Amidst whirlwind changes, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer foreshadowed a federal crackdown on recreational marijuana last week, setting tongues wagging in the 8 states (and, of course, Washington D.C.) that have legalized the plant for adult use. Jeff Sessions wasted no time doubling down on the threat, suddenly finding a renewed clarity in his ire against marijuana that was conveniently missing during his review for the Attorney General position. Now Sessions finds himself in hot water after lying under oath about meeting with the Russian ambassador, so it seems he forgot a lot in his interview. But if Sessions does keep his job, his federal marijuana crackdown would be nothing short of a disaster for both sides. It remains to be seen whether this will register with the Trump administration in time.
What’s at Jeopardy by Enforcing Federal Marijuana Restrictions
The statistics provided by New Frontier Data predict that enforcement of federal marijuana law would cost the United States a quarter of a million much-needed jobs that would have been in place by 2020. Likewise, the report shows that the country could make upwards of $24 billion by 2025; money that will undoubtedly go right into the pockets of drug cartels should a government crackdown take place. If that’s not a strong enough signal to dissuade the Trump administration from taking on recreational marijuana, perhaps they’ll heed the collective voice of the people, captured by last week’s Quinnipiac University poll that shows 71% of voters want the federal government to take a hands-off approach to marijuana laws, instead allowing states to do their own thing. Numbers like this have led to people claiming that Spicer and Sessions are just spouting off. However, it seems that every time the Trump administration is rebuffed by the reassurance of “it will never happen”…it happens.
Spicer and Sessions have framed their perspectives on recreational marijuana as a clash between government and drug-addled stoners but that’s a simplistic, archaic view in modern times that either betrays ignorance or a couple of politicians content to play dumb. The truth is that the economic well-being of people who don’t necessarily touch recreational marijuana is tied into the recreational marijuana industry. While analyzing the stats collected by New Frontier Data, Vice highlighted that many jobs directly benefiting from the recreational marijuana industry are peripheral jobs such as real estate brokers, packaging companies, handymen, and electricians. With manufacturing jobs predicted to decline, the marijuana industry is a reasonable replacement yet the current administration is threatening to take this away based on Reefer Madness-influenced rhetoric.
Why Would the Administration Even Want to Crackdown on Recreational Marijuana?
Writing for High Times, David Bienenstock connected a few dots to reveal a disturbing picture. He pointed out that the Trump administration crackdown on recreational marijuana benefits Big Pharma by hitting their competition, benefits private prisons by prolonging a failing war on drugs, and benefits Mexican drug cartels by keeping the black market in business. Why would any of this be in the presidential administration’s interests? The most obvious connection would be the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions let no time pass before he dissolved the Obama administration’s order to phase out private prisons. Sessions has numerous ties to the controversial private prison industry and it’s on the books that private prisons have been big contributors to groups that support Trump.
The Big Pharma connection isn’t quite as clear, at least looking at recent history. On the campaign trail, pharmaceutical companies were strongly skewing Clinton (and that’s putting it mildly) with very little support for Trump. Likewise, he made some statements in January that hit Big Pharma in the wallet pretty hard. But after meeting with representatives from the pharmaceutical industry at the end of January, Trump seemed to have abandoned his hard edge toward Big Pharma. Whatever happened in that closed-door meeting is still unclear to the American public, but Trump has doubled back on some of his harsher statements. Yet, recent press quotes from Spicer indicate that the federal marijuana stance on medical cannabis is much more lenient than their perspectives on recreational weed.
But Bienenstock comes back to neatly tie in a theory regarding the Mexican drug cartels. Returning the recreational industry to their hands is bound to regress into increased violence and crime, supporting the Trump administration’s claims that the U.S. urgently needs to enact an immigration ban. Basically, they’re fixing the race. It’s a strange move from an administration that has routinely benefitted from “alternative facts” as opposed to actively altering the facts. But if Big Pharma and private prisons are writing the checks, then added statistical support for an immigration ban is just the cherry on top.
The Opposition to the Crackdown
Fortunately, despite operating from positions of power, Sessions and the rest of the Trump administration don’t stand to gain an easy victory by taking on the adult use of marijuana. One of the brightest hopes comes in the form of a bipartisan bill dubbed the Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017. Championed by Republican Tom Garrett and Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, the bill aims to remove marijuana from its current federal scheduling and thus return power to the hands of the states. NORML has set up a page where you can directly voice your support for the bill to end federal scheduling of marijuana.
Sessions and co. would also become entangled in the recently formed bipartisan Cannabis Caucus; a committee whose sole purpose is to dispel antiquated beliefs of marijuana and approach the matter from a logical, reasonable angle. The bipartisan aspect of both of these initiatives is integral as it illustrates that this is a true voice of the American people as opposed to party members toeing party lines. In fact, it was a Republican member of the Cannabis Caucus, Dana Rohrabacher, who initiated a bill that would effectively shield both companies and people in legal marijuana states from federal marijuana prosecution. Even states themselves, including Colorado and California, have officially stated that they have no plans of slowing their recreational marijuana operations.
Of course, this all presupposes that Sessions and his team are open to reason, which doesn’t bode well based on his statements. After Spicer made a wince-inducing comparison of recreational marijuana to opioid addiction, Sessions followed with the following quote: “I see a line in The Washington Post today that I remember from the ’80s: ‘Marijuana is a cure for opiate abuse.’ Give me a break. This is the kind of argument that’s been made out there to just…almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits. I doubt that’s true. Maybe science will prove I’m wrong.” The thing is that science has already proven Sessions wrong…again and again. The Cannabist actually ran an entire comprehensive study on it.
Sadly, this struggle is nothing new, albeit the side of prohibition may be stepping up its aggression. The arguments remain the same, the data remains the same. The only difference is that we may actually see it pitted against one another with genuine stakes. From what I’ve seen in the news, most analysts tend to agree that a federal marijuana crackdown would be a horrible idea but, as we’ve seen in the past, horrible ideas sometimes develop into horrible actions. So batten down the hatches, dig your heels in, and be ready for anything.