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7 Reasons Trump Can't Stop the Cannabis Movement

By David Jenison on March 20, 2017

"We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope," said Martin Luther King, Jr. in one of his more famous lines. Sure, the Trump Administration disappointed many when it threatened to nuke the state-legal cannabis industry, but his team of glorified frat boys is in for a big surprise if their babbling is more than just bluster. Cannabis companies now trade on the stock market, medicinal products help millions, jobs are being created and only five states currently lack any legal form of medical cannabis if you include cannabidiol (CBD). The cannabis movement has all the momentum, and if Trump thinks he's going to put the genie back in the bottle, he will soon learn infinite disappointment. The man who rode to the White House on the promise of a giant wall will do a face-plant into several other walls if he attempts a renewed crackdown on cannabis. The following are seven reasons he won't succeed. 

1. Governors will exert states' rights 

As noted by Americans for Safe Access, "States, not the federal government, are the principal purveyors of criminal codes," and the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated those rights in the 1992 case New York v. United States. Only the more liberal Justices dissented in the 6-3 ruling that noted, "We have always understood that even where Congress has the authority under the Constitution to pass laws requiring or prohibiting certain acts, it lacks the power directly to compel the States to require or prohibit those acts." 

This might not have mattered when most state governors supported cannabis prohibition, but listen to what state officials say now. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper told Meet the Press, "The states have a sovereignty just like Indian tribes have a sovereignty, and just like the federal government does," while Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval told The Hill, "I don't know what direction the Justice Department is going to go, but it is going to raise some legal issues." Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said, "States like Washington have legal tools to resist such an effort, in the same way we have legal tools to resist the executive travel ban," while California Attorney General Xavier Becerra wrote, "If there is action from the federal government on [the state-legal cannabis market], I will respond in an appropriate way to protect the interests of California." Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom of California wrote Trump, "I urge you and your administration to work in partnership with California and the other eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use in a way that will let us enforce our state laws." The administration will face extended court battles should it persecute the cannabis movement. 

2. Many law enforcement agencies will not comply

Federal agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) can enforce federal cannabis laws even when states won't, but it cannot force state law enforcement to help. 

This matters because federal agencies generally need local support to carry out raids. Mark Kleiman, professor of Public Policy at NYU/Marron, recently told Business Insider, "There are 4,000 DEA agents worldwide. There are 500,000 state and local cops. If a state doesn’t want to enforce its cannabis laws, the Federal government really cannot step into those shoes. And, again this is hard Constitutional doctrine. The Federal government may not require a state to make something criminal or to help enforce safe Federal law." Now add the cherry to this sundae: A Pew Research Center survey in January 2017 found that nearly 70 percent of police officers think cannabis should be legal for medical and/or recreational purposes. 

3. Trump said he would leave cannabis laws up to the states

For better or worse, President Trump has tried to live up to his promises, and he promised to leave cannabis laws up to the states. Vice President Mike Pence and several cabinet secretaries might feel differently, but the lack of a single late-night cannabis tweet suggests Trump is largely ambivalent about the issue, and he likely wants his team focused on other horrors like deporting immigrants and rolling back civil rights. At the International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco, public policy consultant Nathan Daschle said, "Trump is not an ideologue, that's the good news. He's very transactional. The only people who are really left that are opposed to [legalization] come from an ideological point of view." This is a self-imposed wall, but a reversal would require Trump overcome his own convictions. 

4. Popular opinion is overwhelmingly against a crackdown

A Reuters/Ipsos poll published in January found that Americans supported the Muslim ban by a seven-point margin (48 to 41 percent), yet look at all the protests it inspired. Now imagine the response to an issue that Americans overwhelmingly support. Quinnipiac University released a national poll in February that found 59-percent support for full legalization, 93-percent support for medical cannabis and 71-percent support for no federal interference in state cannabis laws. To put this support in context, as many Republicans support medical cannabis as oppose Obamacare. Add in the results of a 2014 CNN poll on prohibitions, and three times as many people favor prohibiting alcohol to medical cannabis. 

5. More Republicans now support cannabis legalization

Cannabis legalization is more commonly associated with liberals, but several Republicans now oppose prohibition, asset forfeiture laws and preempting state law. The first-ever Cannabis Caucus formed in February 2017, and the four founding members, all House Members, include Republicans Don Young (Alaska) and Dana Rohrabacher (California) and Democrats Earl Blumenauer (Oregon) and Jared Polis (Colorado). Likewise, Rohrabacher recently introduced the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017 bill that would prohibit the Justice Department from spending federal funds to go after state-legal cannabis companies. He previously co-authored the bipartisan Rohrabacher-Farr amendment that did the same thing, but his new bill would not require annual renewal. Republican Representative Tom Garrett of Virginia, meanwhile, introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 that would completely remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and allow states to enact their own policies. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, both former candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, also support letting states decide for themselves. Last year, a YouGov poll found that, for the first time, more conservatives opposed prohibition (45 percent) than support it (42 percent), so opposition to the crackdown will come from both sides of the aisle. 

6. The stakes are high for the 2018 election

Liberals (who are more likely to support legalization) turn out in lower numbers for the midterms (i.e., national elections in non-presidential election years), but many expect a liberal-voter surge in response to Trump's policies. Likewise, many millennials who supported Bernie Sanders sat out the general election thinking there would little difference between a Clinton and Trump Administration, but many of these potential voters must now realize there's no one quite like Trump, especially if he does crack down on cannabis. The 2018 midterms will also have cannabis-related measures on the ballot with 22 initiatives currently in the works in Florida, Missouri, Arizona, Mississippi, Idaho, Nebraska, Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Dakota. All 535 House seats are up for election every two years, and raging against cannabis will only increase what looks to be an already-high liberal turnout. 

7. A crackdown will cost jobs and tax revenue

Trump's job creation so far primarily involves weapons manufacturers, private prison corporations, confederate flag makers, oil companies, investment bankers and people who repair Jewish headstones. Trump needs more diverse job creation to fulfill his promise of 25 million jobs (or even a fraction of that), and renewed prohibition would be a devastating job killer. In February 2017, Forbes reported that the cannabis industry will create more jobs than manufacturing over the next three years. A crackdown will take those jobs off the market, and people convicted of cannabis crimes will face additional hurdles in procuring new employment, in turn increasing entitlement spending. 

The Forbes article also reported, "The legal cannabis market was worth an estimated $7.2 billion in 2016 and is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 17%. Medical marijuana sales are projected to grow from $4.7 billion in 2016 to $13.3 billion in 2020. Adult recreational sales are estimated to jump from $2.6 billion in 2016 to $11.2 billion by 2020." A cannabis crackdown would compound a massive unemployment spike with huge spending increases for enforcement and lost tax revenue from business closures. An attack on state-legal cannabis will hurt voters' pocketbooks, and as the saying goes, people vote with their pocketbooks. 

Trump has too many problems to take on seven more

The Trump Blitzkrieg has been beset by public protests, court setbacks, widespread leaks, brutal media headlines, investigations, resignations, recusals and general global outrage. Rolling back the clock on cannabis prohibition will only make things worse. Trump is clearly not afraid of a fight, but he already said he does not favor going after state-legal cannabis, so his prohibition-minded appointees will likely have less influence on this particular issue. Sure, Trump might fire off a policy tweet or authorize a few raids—even though history suggests he's not adept at either—but he'll soon realize he lacks the political capital and moral authority for a sustained crackdown. At a time when his popularity is falling and his problems mounting, Trump likely won't pick a fight with an industry that has bipartisan popular support just to make Pence, Sessions and the rest of his American Gothic team happy. 

David Jenison (david@prohbtd.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Street art image by Flickr/Ted EytanLEAP photo by a katz/Shutterstock. Dr. Doom art by Donovan Clark

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