The results are in, and marijuana legalization had a landslide election night. But the cannabis cause’s collective victories pale in comparison to the stunning presidential win of Donald Trump. Even political frenemy Paul Ryan had to admit Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was “the most incredible political feat” he’s seen.
So what does a Trump presidency mean for the legalization movement and its gaining momentum? Trump’s policy intentions are basically a black box — cannabis is nowhere to be found on his campaign website’s relatively thin policy page — so we’re forced to look for our own clues.
Here are some important factors to consider:
Trump’s Previous Statements
Contradictions abound here, but Trump’s most recent dive into the topic came during a Reno campaign stop in October 2015. He was supportive of leaving marijuana legalization up to the states: “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state.”
Trump, of course, regularly improvised during his early campaign stops. These were not prepared remarks, rather they came while fielding a handful of questions. They were also a drastic change of tune from previous statements.
Four months earlier, Trump came out swinging when asked about Colorado’s recreational marijuana legalization at the CPAC Conference: “I say it’s bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about it.”
Going back further, Trump maintained a longstanding opposition to the War on Drugs and offered an elementary solution: make all drugs legal, tax them, and use the revenue to educate the public about the dangers of drug use. In 1990 he told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune: “We’re losing badly the war on drugs … You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”
The biggest takeaway from Trump’s statements on marijuana legalization: his position is extremely malleable. Will he be swayed more by the building will of the people, or some other force?
Donald Trump’s VP has overseen some of the most draconian marijuana penalties in the country as governor of Indiana. He’s also financially tied to the prohibition industry: A big donor to his 2012 gubernatorial campaign was the Geo Group — one of the country’s largest private prison companies — which sees obvious financial benefits from the locking up of drug offenders.
Pence’s tough-on-crime agenda has shown softness in select drug-related situations, however. Last year during a press conference to discuss the task force he launched to find alternative ways to combat drug abuse, he stated: “We simply cannot arrest our way out of the problem. We have to recognize that we also have to address the root causes of addiction and focus on treatment.” (It’s worth noting that Geo touts its ability to rehabilitate offenders.) Pence also enacted a needle-exchange program to help combat the state’s HIV epidemic.
In the end, it’s probably not a great sign that the most encouraging quote we could find from Pence on marijuana legalization is nothing more than a third-hand anecdote: “I’m not there yet,” Pence reportedly told a dinner guest when pressed on medical marijuana earlier this year. “But I can see it.'”
Trump’s Attorney General
Rumor has it Trump will appoint either New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani as U.S. Attorney General. Neither would be a great choice for the marijuana industry.
During his short-lived presidential campaign, Christie was adamant that he would leverage the oval office to uphold the federal ban of cannabis: “Marijuana is against the law in the states and it should be enforced in all 50 states,” he told Fox & Friends last year. “If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it. As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
New Jersey currently allows medical marijuana — albeit with some of the tightest restrictions among states that do so — which is something Giuliani is diametrically opposed to. Rudy remains an ardent supporter of the War on Drugs, and opposes all cannabis usage.
Legalization advocacy group Marijuana Majority has already launched a petition urging Trump to stick to his most recent quotes and honor state marijuana laws, plus appoint Justice Department and DEA leaders who will do the same.
“A clear majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana,” the petition states. “And we’re counting on you to respect the people’s will and make good on your word.”
So, will he?