The Cannabis Community Pushes Back On Possibility of 'Greater Enforcement'
2017 has been a bit rocky for the cannabis community. The 2016 election in many ways ushered in a new era for cannabis with so many state victories.
However, the Trump administration has caused a lot of anxiety for the cannabis community with people like Jeff Sessions being appointed to lead the Department of Justice.
When Donald Trump was on the campaign trail, he'd made it clear that he felt that cannabis legalization should be left up to the states.
That led some in the community to believe that the Trump administration would take a hands off approach to federal cannabis enforcement in states where voters passed legalization.
But recent comments by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Attorney General Jeff Sessions made it clear that the feds are looking at increasing enforcement of cannabis prohibition.
As a cannabis consumer, you should be concerned, and you should also know that some very hardworking activists and reform organizations are pushing back in a way that is truly inspiring.
Sean Spicer and 'greater enforcement'
On Thursday, February 23rd White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about federal cannabis enforcement. In his response Mr. Spicer said that he expects states to see 'greater enforcement' of federal cannabis prohibition.
Sean Spicer specifically singled out adult-use cannabis states, but also stated that president Trump would respect states rights when it came to medical cannabis.
As it stands right now, there are 8 states that have voted to legalize cannabis for adult use, but only half of them have rolled out adult use sales (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska).
The remaining states are in the rule-making phase for what will eventually become a taxed and regulated adult-use cannabis industry.
Legalization is clearly working in the states that allow adult-use sales, so why the need to revert back to enforcing a failed public policy like cannabis prohibition? The Obama administration took a hands off approach to the emerging adult-use industry, and the Trump administration should do the same.
In addition to the comment about 'greater enforcement' Sean Spicer tried tying the opioid crisis that America is dealing with to cannabis reform. That did not go over well with veteran cannabis activists who pointed out the obvious lie that Spicer told.
“Trump seems insistent on throwing the marijuana market underground, wiping out tax-paying jobs and eliminating billions of dollars in taxes,” said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “As for connecting marijuana to the legal opioid crisis, Spicer has it exactly backwards. Greater access to marijuana has actually led to declines in opioid use, overdoses and other problems.”
Ultimately Press Secretary Spicer punted the issue to the Justice Department, which Spicer said would make the decision of whether or not to go after legal states, and if so, how and when it would occur.
Jeff Sessions tries linking cannabis legalization and violence
The following week Attorney General Jeff Sessions doubled down on Sean Spicer's comments by coming out swinging against cannabis legalization as well.
Jeff Sessions is a long time cannabis opponent, having once supported a bill in Alabama that called for the execution of people caught selling cannabis.
During an exchange with reporters at the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions stated the following, per Politico:
"Most of you probably know I don’t think America is going to be a better place when more people of all ages and particularly young people start smoking pot. 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."
"We're seeing real violence around that," Sessions said. "Experts are telling me there's more violence around marijuana than one would think and there's big money involved."
"I'm definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana," he said. "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."
Jeff Sessions did not offer up any examples of how adult-use cannabis legalization has caused violence, likely because no such examples exist. Reducing violence is actually an argument for legalization, as Tom Angell from the Marijuana Majority points out:
"By talking about marijuana and violence, the attorney general is inadvertently articulating the strongest argument that exists for legalization, which that it allows regulated markets in a way that prohibition does not. The only connection between marijuana and violence is the one that exists when illegal sellers battle it out for profits in the black market. A growing number of states are showing that legalization is generating revenues, creating jobs and reducing crime. The Justice Department should uphold President Trump's campaign pledges to let these voter-approved laws be implemented without federal interference.”
Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director, also weighed in:
"Attorney General Sessions' latest comments are completely fictitious, they describe a reality that only exists in the world of alternative facts. Marijuana legalization has not lead to increased violence, but rather has lead to lowered youth use rates, increased tax revenue, and fewer arrests of otherwise law abiding American citizens. The truth is that legalization is working and the views recently espoused by Attorney General Sessions are reckless, irresponsible, and outright false."
Jeff Sessions' comments were blatant reefer madness, and it has been very encouraging to see veteran cannabis supporters come out so quickly and concisely against both what Sessions and Spicer said.
This is arguably the most important crossroads in the history of cannabis reform. America can either continue to move towards the right side of history, or can be pulled back into the depths of prohibition.
It will largely depend on how the cannabis community handles the situation, which so far, has been amazing. Hopefully that continues.
An article by Politico stated that Sessions gave a different outlook behind the scenes to various Senators, indicating that a federal crackdown 'wasn't imminent.'
However, Jeff Sessions also recently expressed a strong desire to bring back the 'Just Say No' campaign, so I think that the main thing to keep in mind is that Sessions is a politician who appears to be a fan of double talk.
Depending on the audience and the setting, Jeff Sessions can and will say what he thinks people want to hear. But where do his loyalties reside? Do you believe him when he claims that there won't be at least an attempt at a crackdown? I personally do not.
Poll shows Americans want the feds to respect states rights
On the same day that Sean Spicer came out with his comments regarding the opioid crisis, cannabis, and 'greater enforcement' of federal prohibition, a poll was released.
The poll was conducted by Quinnipiac, and asked poll participants about federal enforcement of cannabis prohibition in states that have passed legalization.
An overwhelming 71% of respondents stated that the federal government should not enforce federal laws against states that have voted to legalize cannabis for adult use.
The poll results were released just hours before Sean Spicer's comments, and highlight just how out of touch the Trump administration's move would be with the popular opinion of the American people.
Cannabis activists created a petition which calls on Donald Trump to uphold his campaign promise to respect state cannabis legalization laws.
If you haven't already signed the petition, you can do so at this link here. If the petition receives 100,000 signatures, it requires a response from the White House.
The response doesn't have to be favorable, and in no way changes federal law, but a response would still be a tremendous thing should it occur.
Cannabis supporters need to keep contacting their Representative and Senators in Congress to let them know that prohibition is a failure, that legalization works, and that the will of voters in legal states needs to be respected.
A group of Senators, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren, have already sent a strongly worded letter to Attorney General Sessions urging him to respect state cannabis laws. The letter was sent after it became known that Sessions was telling Senators that a crackdown was not imminent.
Just as those Senators are not taking anything for granted, so too should cannabis consumers when it comes to the new administration's approach to cannabis policy.
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Have you signed the White House petition calling on Trump to respect state adult-use cannabis laws?