President-elect Donald Trump’s public pronouncements and prospective cabinet appointments indicate that he may lead a crackdown on cannabis, even in states in which recreational use of the substance has been legalized, according to a former attorney general for Washington state.
The president-elect has demonstrated that he may be an opponent of cannabis legalization once he takes office in January.
The selection of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), for example, is an indication that the incoming commander-in-chief may halt was has been several years of momentum on the legalization front.
That is the opinion of Rob McKenna, the former Attorney General for Washington state, who said in a recent interview that Sen. Sessions threatens the end of cannabis Prohibition more than anyone since the last Republican administration.
Senator Jeff Sessions has been the single biggest opponent to marijuana legalization in the U.S. Senate, according to drug policy staff under Clinton and President Bush.
According to McKenna, such an approach could potentially lead to a crackdown on legalized cannabis throughout the country – regardless of each state’s laws regarding the cultivation and use of the substance.
Even among legal states
Even states like Washington and Colorado – which have legalized cannabis for recreational use – laws allowing the substance for recreational or medicinal use remain at odds with federal laws. This could lead a zealous anti-cannabis crusader like Sessions to administer a crackdown on cannabis.
According to McKenna, this is an entirely plausible route for Sessions to take,
It is possible he will take a hard-line law-and-order approach and assert federal preemption over those state laws… State medical marijuana laws and recreational marijuana laws are contrary to the federal criminal laws.
If Sessions does indeed intend to pursue individuals in states in which cannabis is legalized, he will have his work cut out for him: Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have now legalized cannabis in some form.
Unlikely to happen
Despite the past statements from actors like Sessions and the ensuing hand-wringing on the Left, a widespread Trump-led crackdown on cannabis is unlikely to occur in the next several years, according to McKenna.
For starters, for any meaningful rollback of cannabis law to occur, the Justice Department would have to put the issue near the top of its list of priorities, meaning the expenditure of unprecedented amounts of money, time, and court resources would be allocated toward the pursuance of users of state-legal cannabis.
For McKenna, that outcome is not likely to occur:
You can only do so much… So is this going to be the Department of Justice’s highest priority? Because it will bog them down in court for quite a while.
Another factor is the sheer number of people that such a crackdown would affect. Hundreds of millions of people live in states that allow for legal cannabis use in some form, with one-fifth of the nation’s adults living in states that specifically allow for recreational use of the substance.
Targeting such a vast number of potential cannabis users would represent an astronomical expenditure of federal dollars – not to mention political capital – that the Trump administration is unlikely to want to pursue.