On the campaign trail, Donald Trump gave every indication that he supported giving medical cannabis states’ rights regarding jurisdiction of the cannabis industry. He received a lot of votes from medical cannabis patients who expected this to be the case. Things changed dramatically with the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General. Sessions had made some very troubling comments about cannabis users in the past; “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Many medical cannabis patients, in particular, were very upset by this comment. Jeff Sessions neither apologized for it nor retracted it. This promise seemed to be in jeopardy after comments made recently by Sessions and by Sean Spicer, Trump Press Secretary.
Spicer, who has consistently lied during press briefings, made a rather ominous statement about cannabis. He said that the country should expect to see “greater enforcement of federal laws against marijuana use.” He made a wild and inaccurate distinction between medical and recreational cannabis, suggesting that recreational cannabis is as dangerous as opioid usage. This is completely false. As is now well documented, many hundreds of patients have been able to wean themselves off of addictive, harmful opioids via medical cannabis. To give him some credit, he did point out that President Trump recognizes the positive effects of medical cannabis, especially for those with terminal illnesses.
Comments made by AG Sessions a few weeks ago sent shock waves through the cannabis industry:
“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” Sessions said to reporters at the Department of Justice. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that. I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”
In fact, in states where both medical and recreational cannabis are legal, there are lower incidences of cannabis usage amongst young people. Violence amongst cannabis users is extremely low, if any. Violent behavior is much higher amongst people under the influence of alcohol, validated by copious research.
The extremely strict regulation of medical cannabis in Illinois may turn out to protect the program from federal interference should Spicer’s predictions come true. While the many rules and regulations that make becoming a patient very cumbersome, that fact may be the saving grace. It is thought that states with much less regulated programs have a lot more to fear from a DOJ led by Sessions. However, the new federal position on cannabis may give Illinois lawmakers an excuse to veto any extension of the MCPP past its current date of 2020.
In further developments, Sessions recently gave a speech to the National Association of Attorneys General. Again, he lambasted cannabis. He said he is “dubious about it. He is unsure that we are going to be a healthier nation if we have marijuana being sold at every corner grocery store.” Clearly, this statement does a huge disservice to the entire cannabis community. He has also completely discounted the science of medical cannabis usage as an alternative to opioids and as a solution to the huge epidemic we are currently experiencing. His ignorance and unwillingness to educate himself about cannabis is very discouraging and dangerous.
However, to make matters even more confusing, he has been thought to have indicated, in private, that he will uphold the states’ rights to govern themselves where there are existing rules and regulations in place regarding recreational cannabis usage. In response to Sessions’ latest comments, a bipartisan group of 11 senators sent him a letter requesting that he abide by the Cole Memorandum. It states that where “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale, and production of marijuana, … enforcement of state law by state and local law enforcement and regulatory bodies should remain the primary means of addressing marijuana-related activity.”
60% of Americans now favor cannabis legalization. 150,000 jobs have been generated by the cannabis industry with earnings of $6.7 billion. If for no other reason than economically, to threaten such earning potential would be ludicrous. Donald Trump won the presidency, to some extent, with the perception that he is a brilliant and successful businessman. Allowing the dissolution of the cannabis industry would surely make little business sense.
On a positive note, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) and Representative Don Young (R-AK) have all joined forces to form a Congressional Cannabis Caucus. The goal of this organization is to increase medical research into cannabis and to facilitate new regulations on banking and taxation of cannabis businesses.
Rep. Rohrabacher coauthored the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment in 2014. It prevented the DOJ from using federal funds to interfere with the implementation of medical cannabis laws in legal states. It must be renewed every year and is current until April 28, 2017. He also endorsed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, 2016, in California. He has used medical cannabis to treat his arthritis. Rep. Blumenauer supported the Oregon Ballot Measure 91 in 2014. This made recreational cannabis legal. The two representatives formed a congressional caucus in 2016 in order to support federal cannabis legislation as a states’ rights issue.