Pubdate: Thu, 11 Aug 2016
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: Chem Tales
Copyright: 2016 Village Voice Media
Author: Alex Halperin


Recently in Denver, Donald Trump told a television station that 
states should decide for themselves whether or not to legalize 
marijuana. Trump has expressed contradictory views in the past, but 
this is one of his more believable campaign promises.

If Trump believes in anything besides himself, it's in the virtue of 
making money. He allocated a prime speaking slot at the Republican 
National Convention to Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire 
who - aside from celebrities - is the most prominent businessperson 
to get his hands green. Thiel's Founders Fund invested millions in 
Privateer Holdings, the parent company of weed site Leafly and 
cannabis brand Marley Natural. Like every speaker at either party's 
conventions, Thiel declined to mention the plant, but he has a stake 
in the industry's future.

Trump has also been fairly consistent in his support for medical 
marijuana, and allowing states to pursue their own policies would 
merely require a continuation of the status quo.

But as with all things Trump, there are abundant reasons to be 
skeptical. First, he has surrounded himself with anti-pot hardliners. 
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible attorney general in a 
Trump administration, was probably the most vocal legalization 
opponent of any presidential candidate this cycle. While his 
predecessor, Democrat Jon Corzine, signed the state's medical 
marijuana law, under Christie the program has struggled to grow, and 
he's said he would end the state legalization experiments by imposing 
federal law.

Trump's veep pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, opposes legalization and 
has increased penalties for drug offenses. The conservative judges 
Trump has named as potential Supreme Court picks can't be expected to 
climb the barricades for pot, either. Meanwhile, Trump's strongest 
support comes from older voters, who are less likely to favor 
legalization - although they're also the fastest-growing group of pot 
users in the country.

Trump is also a lifelong teetotaler. He claims to never have smoked 
pot or even had a drink - although he's long been rumored to have a 
taste for "speed-like diet pills."

In my conversations, cannabis-types are most bothered by Trump's 
closeness with Christie. So it's not surprising that a recent survey 
found cannabis professionals support Trump at a lower rate than the 
country at large.

With the possible exception of Libertarian Gary Johnson, no 
presidential candidate has shown any appetite for in-depth 
discussions of legalization: What it should look like and how it will 
affect the country. Crucially, they've also been mum about the 
industry as an economic powerhouse that creates jobs and pays taxes.

The first national politicians to go there can expect generous 
thank-yous to land in their campaign coffers. Still, the abiding 
reluctance is understandable. While Americans strongly support 
medical marijuana, and most support legalizing it for recreational 
use, little is known about how these positions will go over with the 
suburban swing-state voters who decide presidential elections. As it 
stands now, few politicians in either party are willing to fully own 
their support or opposition.

Hillary Clinton is in favor of medical, but for well over a year she 
has said she'll withhold judgement on full legalization until we know 
more about the state experiments. Whether she'll decide based on road 
fatalities, youth use, taxes generated, or any other metric - or how 
long it might take her to make up her mind - she has not said. (Her 
campaign did not respond to requests for comment.)

The willful blindness on both sides is unfortunate, since President 
Barack Obama's hands-off approach is becoming untenable.

Polls suggest that California will legalize in November, and Canada 
has pledged to legalize next year. If either occurs, the next 
administration will be under immense pressure to reconsider federal policy.

The cannabis community believes it is on the right side of history, 
and many of its ideas - on criminal justice and health in particular 
- - have earned broad public support. But advocates and the 
businesspeople who are rapidly piling on are about to be engulfed by, 
as one investor put it, a "tsunami of money." A new power structure 
is emerging, and it deserves the same attention as any other. 
Americans bought $5.4 billion worth of legal marijuana last year, 
which is roughly half the amount they spent at Starbucks - with 
recreational dispensaries only open in three states.

Prohibition is the first thing everyone knows about the 1920s, and 
decades from now, marijuana legalization may be considered as 
historic as the 1933 constitutional amendment that repealed the 
country's failed experiment with banning alcohol. The pro-cannabis 
side has a compelling story to tell; it's also an insurgent special 
interest that will fight as aggressively as any other. By ignoring 
it, the candidates only serve the industry's greediest elements.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom