Recent statements made by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions have many local residents asking this question: Is Washington state’s legal recreational marijuana law in jeopardy?
Cannabis activists and folks in legal circles have been on guard since the election of Donald Trump as president. Although Trump totes the “states’ rights” line when it comes to laws discriminating against transgender communities or involving gun rights legislation, his administration has backtracked on the issue of legal marijuana. During his campaign he opined that it’s a states’ rights issue, but now the tables may be turning against the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Congress has passed an appropriations bill that declines to fund any attempts by the Department of Justice to prosecute state medicinal pot programs throughout the country. So in this specific area, the DOJ has adopted a “hand- off” approach. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer maintains that Trump understands the benefits of cannabis for people suffering from serious illnesses.
The problem is that during a press briefing last week Spicer drew a clear distinction between medicinal and recreational pot. He then went on to compare cannabis usage with addiction to opiates. Throwing those two substances into the same bag is a big mistake. He displayed a serious misunderstanding of the effects of THC.
Spicer’s next statement caused a lot of consternation among pot enthusiasts. Referring to the U.S. Department of Justice, he said: “I believe they are going to continue to enforce of the laws that are on the books with respect to recreational marijuana.”
Further statements by Jeff Sessions have also raised eyebrows: “I’m definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana. States, they can pass the laws they choose. 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.”
There are currently seven states that have approved the legalization of recreational pot. Meanwhile, the DOJ still lists cannabis as a “Schedule 1” drug, making it equivalent in their eyes to heroin. The feds claim there are still no proven health benefits associated with the use of cannabis preparations.
This factual and legal disconnect is the problem we are now facing in the U.S. State and federal policies are neither cohesive nor consistent. The result may be a looming legal crisis if cooler heads do not prevail.
Upon consulting with several legal and political experts, I was told two things:
1) The U.S. Department of Justice will receive no assistance from law enforcement agencies in states where pot has been legalized for recreational use.
2) Local and state political representatives will oppose any efforts to dismantle legalization or decriminalization laws.
U.S. Supreme Court, are you listening? Will there be another landmark states’ rights legal case to establish a clear precedent, or will the Trump administration simply utilize federal dollars and personnel to prosecute marijuana businesses and their customers? Federal officials could also threaten to stop funding programs for the states that have legalized cannabis, as they have already done in the case of sanctuary states refusing to cooperate with Trump’s immigration policies.
Obviously a compromise will have to be reached, but there could be major court cases along the way. The DOJ could file complaints against those states, which would inevitably result in counter suits and long legal battles.
So the question remains, how is the U.S. government going to approach this issue under the Trump administration? What’s the scoop? Are federal DEA agents going to be raiding local retail pot establishments? I do not want to sound a false alarm if there’s no fire to go with all of this smoke, but the question has been raised, so I feel it must addressed.
The International Business Times has obtained an email through a public records request, which may be pertinent. The Drug Enforcement Agency has asked for information from Colorado’s attorney general regarding the state’s prosecution of cannabis related cases. If this is an indication of future plans by DOJ, local governments should be prepared for some pressure coming from Washington, D.C.
Given the current courageous stance of Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and other local politicians against Trump’s policy on immigration, I can’t imagine our state legislators backing down on the legalization issue. There will also be strong opposition in Colorado, Oregon, California and other states.
Is this a constitutional crisis? At the very least it highlights once again just how divided our country is on many important social, political and scientific issues. If Washington state is to maintain its reputation as a highly innovative and independent region, we must find a way to preserve our state laws.