Jeff Sessions has been a vocal opponent of marijuana for decades.
Image: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia
The election was a massive win for weed, with eight states voted to legalize adult use or medical marijuana, which upped the total number of green states to 29. However, with the election of Donald Trump, and more so his incoming administration, state marijuana programs are under threat.
"By and large, from a drug policy reform perspective, Trump's appointees so far are a nightmare," Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy organization, told Motherboard.
Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions has had a historically hostile attitude toward marijuana law reform. As a U.S. Attorney in the 1980s, the now-senator from Alabama had gone on record saying he thought the Ku Klux Klan were okay until he found out they smoked pot. He's called marijuana law reform a "tragic mistake" and said that "good people don't smoke marijuana." Sessions has also criticized the Obama administration for not rigorously enforcing federal marijuana prohibition in states with adult use or medical marijuana policies.
In essence, we're dealing with a prohibitionist who would do Nixon and Reagan era drug warriors proud. One who disagrees with 60 percent of the American people who think marijuana should be legal.
He's called marijuana law reform a "tragic mistake" and said that "good people don't smoke marijuana."
Growers, dispensary owners, product manufacturers, and marijuana users—all criminal under federal law—could easily risk arrest if Sessions so chooses to spend taxpayers' money on targeting the $6.7 billion legally compliant cannabis industry.
In regard to drug policy reform, Sessions opposes sentencing reform, which would have helped avoid the expensive and controversial practice of putting people in jail for decades for carrying a few ounces of weed. He's also against consent decrees, which address civil rights issues like police brutality and racial profiling, and granting those who have been incarcerated voting rights— like 30 percent of black men in the Deep South.
Sessions also supports civil asset forfeiture, which allows cops to keep convicts' money and property for themselves, wrote Bill Piper, senior director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. With Sessions as attorney general, the Drug War could be used to spy on, investigate, incarcerate, and deport immigrants, Muslims, and other groups that Trump has repeatedly targeted on the campaign trail, according to Piper.
"I still think the marijuana industry in states like Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, where the framework has been set in a complete and well regulated way, will be allowed to do business and more and more states are falling in right behind," said Anthony Franciosi, founder of Honest Marijuana, an organic marijuana company in Colorado.
But he also thinks that the new administration could use their power to stop marijuana cultivation or sales, and the burden would fall on home growers and medical programs. The best way for cannabis industry folk to protect themselves, Franciosi recommends, is to follow state law as meticulously as possible.
At the federal level, a few measures may help state marijuana, but whether they'll be enough is up for debate. The Cole Memorandum, issued in 2013, is a guidance memo for the justice department not to challenge the state-compliant marijuana industry. "It does not codify any change in federal policy and it can readily be ignored or rebuked by the new administration," said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
The best way for cannabis industry folk to protect themselves is to follow state law as meticulously as possible.
There's also the Rohrabacher-Farr budget amendment, which prohibits the justice department from using federal money to prosecute those who comply with their state marijuana laws. However, that amendment needs to be renewed annually. "It is possible that Congress will not do so in 2017 because new House rules forbid the House of Representatives from considering the issue," said Armentano. Neither, the Cole Memo nor the Rohrabacher amendment are ingrained as permanent policy.
Another option could be for states to pass legislation saying that they won't cooperative with federal agents who try to interfere with state marijuana programs, says Amanda Reiman, marijuana law and policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "I think at the end of the day, the more robust a state regulatory system is, the better off they're going to be."
Todd Mitchem, a Colorado-based entrepreneur who works with lawmakers to ensure high standards for operating in the cannabis industry, recommends that the cannabis community look at how what a reversal of marijuana laws would do to states' rights in general.
"If worse came to worse and a universal federal reversal was executed, it would not only be a very time consuming process to redefine marijuana legalization across the nation, but it could also start a state by state nationwide federal lawsuit surge arguing that the federal government is sending mixed messages," he said.
Moreover, Mitchem added, if the new attorney general wants to increase the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spending budget to go after the cannabis industry, he would need to submit the new plan and hope Congress approves the massive expenditure to go after state-compliant marijuana businesses. Which could take years.
Read More: Weed Won the Election
Mitchem pointed out that to actually reverse marijuana legalization policies would be a huge financial and burden and time drain for the incoming administration to fight drug policy reform advocates, cannabis industry folk, and individual state legislatures.
Moreover, doing so would detract DEA time and resources from fighting more serious drugs like meth and heroin, which is now a bigger threat to our lives than guns.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.