What Will Donald Trump’s New Attorney General Mean for Cannabis?
Donald Trump shook up the political world (what else is new) when he fired Reefer Madness Attorney General Jeff Sessions the day following the 2018 midterms. Now, speculation has begun on who the permanent AG will be following the naming of Matthew Whitaker, Jeff Session’s former Chief of Staff, as “Acting” Attorney General (while there are many questions regarding the constitutionality and legality of that nomination.
One rumored candidate is former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has his own Reefer Madness past, but may have “evolved” on states’ rights on the issue. 4Front’s Kris Krane, a previous speaker at the International Cannabis Business Conference, details some of the possible implications for the cannabis industry depending on how Trump proceeds with his next AG nominee for Forbes:
The worst-case scenario would be President Trump nominating a prohibitionist who, unlike Sessions, is willing to follow Trump’s lead on the Mueller investigation. Since Trump does not appear to consider marijuana policy a high priority, it’s easy to imagine him striking a bargain where the new Attorney General pledges to defend Trump from Mueller in exchange for independence on policy issues they disagree on.
The best-case scenario is one in which President Trump identifies marijuana legalization as a winning issue with broad popular support, and nominates a pro-legalization Attorney General to capitalize on that. I’ve previously written about how Trump could take up the mantle of legalization, seizing an issue that should have been an easy win for Democrats if their leadership hadn’t failed to act on it when they were in power. This could position Trump very well for the 2020 election, since legalization is supported overwhelmingly by young people—a group that Democrats are relying on to take back the presidency. Marijuana reform has also passed by wide margins in swing states like Florida and Michigan.
A Reason To Be Optimistic
Regardless of who winds up as America’s next top prosecutor, there is a reason to be optimistic. While we may never know why the Justice Department wasn’t more aggressive in cracking down on state-legal marijuana businesses under arch-prohibitionist Jeff Sessions, it likely had to do with political considerations by individual U.S. Attorneys. While the Attorney General does have the ability to set prosecutorial priorities, he or she technically does not have the ability to tell U.S. Attorneys which cases to pursue.
Of course, it’s impossible to tell which one of these paths President Trump will take, and there are many factors other than marijuana policy at play here. But with marijuana now legal in 10 states, represented by 20 senators—including Republicans like Collins (R-ME), Gardner (R-CO), Murkowski (R-AK), and Sullivan (R-AK)—this is an issue that isn’t going away, and President Trump would be wise to consider it when choosing his next Attorney General. Otherwise, Republicans run the risk of allowing Democrats to become the party of marijuana legalization, and giving Canadian companies a major head-start in the meantime.
Personally, regardless of who Donald Trump taps to be the next Attorney General, I’m optimistic about the prospects of the cannabis industry. Cannabis is usually the most popular issue on the ballot, garnering more votes than any candidate. It would be foolish for Donald Trump to allow his next AG to meddle with the will of the voters. While it is never bad to prepare for the worst, I sincerely believe that the cannabis community can hope for the best, while working our tails off to ensure that this president, and the next Congress, respect the voters that have legalized medical cannabis in over 30 states and legalized in 10 states and our nation’s capital.
Learn the latest about cannabis politics, business, and culture at the next International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco, California, on February 7-8. Don’t miss your opportunity to network with top investors, entrepreneurs, and advocates from the Golden State and around the world, while saving money, by purchasing your early-bird tickets by January 18th. After San Francisco, the ICBC will be traveling to Barcelona, Spain, on March 14th for a special event with Spannabis, before returning to Berlin, Germany, on March 31st-April 2nd. Stay tuned for some more exciting destinations soon!