What the future of marijuana legalization could look like under President Trump
Beau Kilmer, a drug policy expert at the nonprofit Rand Corp., said it's unlikely that any sort of changes to marijuana law will be a priority for incoming Trump administration officials. “In the grand scheme of top issues the new administration is going to be dealing with, marijuana is not going to be a top priority,” Kilmer said in an interview.
With 65 million people living in states that have given the green light to marijuana legalization, any federal crackdown “could have significant political costs associated with it,” Kilmer said. And the burgeoning marijuana industry is likely to step up its lobbying efforts at the state and local levels.
Hudak agrees that any effort to stop state-level legalization will depend on lawmakers' appetite for dealing with the potential political fallout from the move.
“This is a Congress that is about to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” Hudak said. “I think a Congress and an administration that are willing to do that are not going to worry about the optics of quashing the marijuana industry.”
Trump’s pick for attorney general:
President-elect Donald Trump plans to nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be attorney general of the United States, The Washington Post and other news outlets reported Friday. Sessions is a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization whose elevation to attorney general could deal a blow to state-level marijuana legalization efforts across the country.
Under Obama, the Justice Department explicitly adopted a hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement in states that have legalized the drug, allowing those laws to proceed without interference provided that a number of enforcement priorities, including keeping pot out of the hands of minors, were met. The announcement of that stance in 2013 played a key role in allowing Colorado and Washington to move forward with their marijuana markets.
“A lot of people forget that [recreational marijuana markets in] Colorado and Washington were pretty much on hold until the governors there received guidance from the Department of Justice,” John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said this month.
Even simply reversing that guidance could have a chilling effect in states like Maine and Massachusetts that recently approved legalization. Without a tacit green light from the federal government, governors in those states may be hesitant to move forward with legalization policies that remain at odds with federal laws on the books for more than 40 years.
“I’m still hopeful the new administration will realize that any crackdown against broadly popular laws in a growing number of states would create huge political problems they don’t need and will use lots of political capital they’d be better off spending on issues the new president cares a lot more about,” said Tom Angell of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority.