Donald Trump has had a tumultuous first few weeks as President with no shortage of stories for political junkies actively watching this young administration. Amid the chaos, three specific administration actions in recent weeks are beginning to shape what state-legal cannabis may look like under Trump.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Senator Jeff Sessions was recently confirmed as the U.S. Attorney General. Sessions is clearly not a fan of cannabis — as he once so crudely put it, “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Nonetheless, at his confirmation hearings, Sessions said that he would examine the Cole Memo, which is an instructional memorandum for federal prosecutors regarding how to prioritize prosecuting marijuana crimes in states with legal cannabis.
Under that memo, the Department of Justice has opted to stand down so long as states follow the enumerated enforcement priorities and so long as states have “robust” enough regulations to ensure sufficiently controlled marijuana marketplaces. As Attorney General, Sessions is free to retract that memo and its policies at any time.
Many believe though that Sessions will let the Cole Memo stand because it does not make economic sense to do anything otherwise. But so long as cannabis remains prohibited under federal law, there is a lot Sessions can do to disrupt this growing industry, and enforcement against select marijuana businesses is not off the table as a result.
Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch
In addition to Sessions as Attorney General, President Trump announced Neil Gorsuch as his choice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Judge Gorsuch currently serves on the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals. He was born and raised in cannabis-friendly Colorado and he lives in Boulder, Colo. Judge Gorsuch is a conservative judge who favors a strict reading of the U.S. Constitution, is wary of federal government overreach, is pro-business, and is an overall advocate for states’ rights on certain issues.
Overall, these viewpoints ought to combine for Judge Gorsuch taking a hands-off approach to cannabis. However, Judge Gorsuch has never publicly commented on cannabis legalization and, while he’s decided a few cases involving cannabis over the years, his opinions in those cases don’t provide much insight into how might rule when it comes to state marijuana legalization.
President Trump Gives Brief Opinion On Legalization
Right before the Super Bowl kicked off earlier this month, in an interview with Jim Gray of Westwood One Sports Radio, President Trump gave some slight insight into cannabis reform for the first time as sitting president. In that interview, Trump had this to say about an attempt by the NFL Player Association to reduce league penalties for cannabis use by NFL players:
“Well, I have no opinion on it. They’re going to have to take a look at that. They’re going to talk with the League, they’re going to be talking to, obviously, government officials wherever it may be. And when it comes up to the level of the presidency I’ll have an opinion.”
As a private citizen, Trump once advocated for the legalization of all drugs. As a campaigner for the presidency however, he constantly sent mixed messages, seeming to support medical marijuana while also being critical of recreational marijuana.
Related Story: Sessions Needs To Think Like An Accountant, Not An Attorney
At this point, it is obviously difficult to predict where the Trump Administration will go on state-legal cannabis, but the overwhelming view among the cannabis lawyers at my law firm is that this is not a terribly important issue for President Trump and that means it is not an issue on which either he or his administration will be willing to stake much of his political capital.
Given his populist nature, if the overwhelming majority of Americans continue to support cannabis legalization and if cannabis legalization continues to generate jobs, we just do not see President Trump doing much if anything to try to stop the benefits of legalized marijuana.
Daniel Shortt is an attorney at Harris Bricken, a law firm with lawyers in Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Barcelona, and Beijing. This story was originally published on the Canna Law Blog.