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US Marijuana's Future Depends Largely on Who Trump Names Attorney General

  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    Donald Trump's shocking victory Tuesday accompanied a better-anticipated landslide for marijuana reform, with voters in three states passing medical pot laws and residents in three (perhaps four) others voting to regulate the sale of recreational marijuana. But the mercurial billionaire's win could spell trouble for the cannabis reform movement, which has enjoyed massive momentum and an aura of inevitability amid majority support in national polls.

    Although Trump indicated during the campaign that he would allow states to set their own pot policies, his potential choices as attorney general could pose an existential threat to state-legal cannabis businesses. The multibillion-dollar regulated cannabis market exists due to non-enforcement of the drug's federal prohibition, as U.S. law still bans pot possession for any reason outside limited research. That permissiveness could quickly end or fundamentally change, however.

    "We'd like [the Trump Justice Department] to enforce the law," says Kevin Sabet, a former presidential drug policy adviser who leads the national anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. They don't need a lot of resources through that, a computer and a printer would do just fine," he says. "Sending a letter that businesses have 30 to 60 days to close down would probably do the trick."

    Sabet's not kidding, and reformers view with alarm key Trump allies who are plausible attorney general candidates, such as GOP Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and tough-on-crime former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, both former federal prosecutors.

    Christie famously told pot users during his failed 2016 presidential campaign: "If you're getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it. As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws." Despite his statements on state autonomy, Trump also has called legalization in Colorado "bad" and said "they've got a lot of problems" – music to the ears of opponents.

    "They don't need a lot of resources through that, a computer and a printer would do just fine," he says. "Sending a letter that businesses have 30 to 60 days to close down would probably do the trick."

    Sabet's not kidding, and reformers view with alarm key Trump allies who are plausible attorney general candidates, such as GOP Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and tough-on-crime former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, both former federal prosecutors.

    Christie famously told pot users during his failed 2016 presidential campaign: "If you're getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it. As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws." Despite his statements on state autonomy, Trump also has called legalization in Colorado "bad" and said "they've got a lot of problems" – music to the ears of opponents.

    The cannabis reform movement to date has had the wind at its back, winning broad acceptance over two decades with arguments touting personal freedom, tax revenue, racial equality and the handicapping of violent drug lords.

    The movement won its first major victory with a 1996 California medical pot initiative that was slowly emulated across the country, with medical pot approved in 28 states after Tuesday's elections. In 2012, cannabis reformers claimed their first breakthroughs with winning recreational-use initiatives in Colorado and Washington. In 2014, Alaska, Oregon and the nation's capital followed suit, though Congress later blocked retail sales in the District of Columbia.

    California, Massachusetts, Nevada and possibly Maine will join the list of states allowing recreational marijuana markets after Tuesday's voting, while an Arizona measure narrowly failed. In total, nearly a quarter of the U.S. population will live in a recreational pot state. And with Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota wins Tuesday, medical pot will be available to a clear majority of Americans.

    The worst-case scenario for reformers could include a rescinding of the Justice Department's 2013 Cole Memo that allowed for recreational sales by outlining eight enforcement priorities that would trigger federal intervention. Prosecutors also could closely scrutinize compliance with the guidelines, which express concern about interstate smuggling, underage access and increases in drugged driving or health consequences.

    Supporters of legalization hope that Trump will stick to his campaign-trail statements on state autonomy, but are concerned he won't, with Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, launching a petition to encourage Trump not to change course.

    "What gives me real concern is really the election of Donald Trump and some of the folks around him who are in positions of influence," Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the large pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance, said on a Wednesday conference call. "Donald Trump is totally unpredictable on this issue," he said. "There was a moment years ago when he said he was interested in legalizing all drugs, and then he was seen using drug war rhetoric in debates with Hillary Clinton."

    Tim Purdon, a former U.S. attorney for North Dakota, says "this entire industry in Colorado and Washington and places like that is all built on a policy memo from the Department of Justice, and policy memos can be pulled back by the next attorney general, no question."

    "The next attorney general could withdraw the Cole Memo and could order that the [Drug Enforcement Administration] and U.S. attorney offices ... prioritize the prosecution of cannabis crimes under the Controlled Substances Act. Absolutely. That could happen," says Purdon, who worked on 2014 Justice Department guidance allowing for American Indian tribes to legalize pot.

    Though a crackdown is conceivable, Purdon says a lot depends on the views of the next attorney general. And he says there are many well-qualified Republican attorneys who could be chosen who might not alter the course on marijuana.

    Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert says even with a hostile attorney general, it's not clear the Trump administration would seek to end regulated markets, as it would be a major political fight over an issue about which Trump has shown little enthusiasm.

    "What he would be doing is having the federal government go into states, cut down local businesses and take away jobs from hundreds of thousands of people and cede control of marijuana to Mexican drug cartels," Tvert says.

    "It would seem like a whole lot of political capital would have to be expended that he probably doesn't have. He wasn't elected because he said he wanted to roll back marijuana legalization in the states. He was elected because he said a whole lot of other things," Tvert adds. "If he did this, he would alienate a significant proportion of his supporters."

    Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, says uncertainty following the election outcome "definitely makes clear that to be in this industry is to be political, whether you like it or not, and we as an industry have a responsibility to be advocates for ourselves."

    In the near term, state medical pot markets likely are protected by a spending amendment that has passed Congress multiple times since 2014 and prevents federal prosecutors and DEA from spending appropriated funds to target medical pot programs.

    Sabet says his group has no position on whether medical pot dispensaries should be forced to close, and federal judges thus far have interpreted the congressional provision as offering legal protection. The measure also probably has enough support for reincorporation in annual spending bills, even with GOP majorities, but that's not always enough – as evidenced recently when an amendment that would allow veterans easier access to medical pot passed both the House and Senate before being cut.

    It's also unlikely the federal government could force local authorities to recriminalize personal possession or require them to aggressive enforce federal laws.

    "The silver lining in the doomsday scenario is that it would probably force Congress to move faster on this than ever before," Tvert says.



    By Steven Nelson - US News/Nov. 9, 2016
    http://www.usnews.com/news/articles...ps-attorney-general-could-crush-huge-pot-wins
    Photo: AP
    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    Beenthere2Hippie
    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.

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