Pubdate: Wed, 28 Dec 2016
Source: Norwalk Reflector (OH)
Copyright: 2016 Norwalk Reflector
Author: Jessica Wehrman


WASHINGTON - President-elect Donald Trump's pick for attorney general is
an outspoken foe of efforts to legalize marijuana for medicinal and
recreational purposes - and that has some wondering what it means for the
28 states that have legalized marijuana in some form.

Those states include Ohio, which is in the process of working on
regulations for its own medical marijuana legalization. Aaron Marshall, a
spokesman for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, said his hope remains with
Trump, who has repeatedly said he supports leaving marijuana legalization
efforts to the states.

"We're hopeful he'll follow the promises of President-elect Trump and
leave it up to the states," Marshall said.

But Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican whom Trump has tapped to
head the Justice Department, said as recently as April that "good people
don't smoke marijuana," calling the drug "not the kind of thing that ought
to be legalized."

He has referred to marijuana reform as a mistake and has been consistently
critical of the Obama administration for refusing to enforce a federal
prohibition on marijuana.

Tom Haren, a Cleveland-based lawyer who works on marijuana issues, calls
Sessions "one of the most ardent prohibitionists, one of the most ardent
drug warriors in the Senate." He sees a conflict between Sessions' words
on the issue and Trump's.

"Trump is kind of a wild card himself on any number of issues," Haren
said. "But he's been pretty consistent when it comes to medical marijuana
that he supports it."

As a candidate for president, Trump in June 2015 seemed supportive of
medical marijuana, but he called recreational adult use "bad" at a
conservative CPAC conference. He expressed dismay at Colorado's
recreational legalization, saying it has led to "some big problems."

"But I think medical marijuana, 100 percent," he said.

Haren said he sees a variety of scenarios that could play out in the new
administration. The federal government could, he said, crack down on
recreational markets and not on medical markets. It could, he said,
regulate marijuana through the FDA, ultimately dispensing it at
pharmacies. Or it could send "cease and desist" letters to some of the
largest operators in the country, effectively overruling state efforts.

"I think the best-case scenario folks can hope for is to maintain the
status quo," he said.

Haren said Sessions is not the only marijuana hard-liner in Trump's
cabinet picks. Rep. Tom Price, the Health and Human Services pick, also
"is a well-known prohibitionist."

But Sessions, Haren said, was picked for immigration. Price, R-Ga., was
picked because of his opposition to Obamacare.

"My point is, I don't know that his selection is necessarily a signal from
President-elect Trump's administration as to how this will affect legal
marijuana," he said. He said Sessions' confirmation hearings might shed
more light on his intentions.

In all, 28 states and three territories -- including the District of
Columbia -- have legalized either recreational or medical marijuana. The
first to support it for recreational purposes was Colorado, which did so
in 2012. In response to that, the Department of Justice wrote a memo to
all U.S. attorneys saying that in communities that enacted laws legalizing
marijuana, "conduct in compliance with those laws and regulations is less
likely to threaten the federal priorities." In essence: They wouldn't get

But Carla Lowe, founder of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, hopes
that that policy ends in the new administration.

"We have great hope in Sen. Sessions," Lowe said. "He knows what marijuana
is. He knows it's a highly potent and long-active addictive drug."

Lowe argues that medical marijuana is a "joke," aimed at luring people
into thinking marijuana is acceptable. She has watched the spread of
legalized marijuana with dismay.

"Federal law is our only hope," she said.

Robert Myatt, chairman of the Ohio chapter of Citizens Against Legal
Marijuana, also said he thinks Sessions was chosen more for his stance on
immigration than medical marijuana. "It's a side issue," for the
administration, he said.

That said, "I would welcome an attorney general that would enforce federal
drug laws," Myatt said.

He said he thinks if enforcement were to happen, it would affect
recreational marijuana more than it would medical marijuana.

"It would be a terrible day for hundreds of thousands of Americans who are
going to be helped by medical marijuana," said Marshall, of Ohioans for
Medical Marijuana. "These are seriously ill patients who deserve the right
to medicine that is going to work for them. We have an opioid crisis in
Ohio and many other states, and medical marijuana is a far better choice
for pain management than opioids."

Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy
Project, said increased enforcement might be impractical, particularly
with so many states having at least partially legalized the drug.

"It would be very costly, both in tax resources and manpower, to try to
wipe these state laws off the books through federal enforcement," he said.

"You can't commandeer state law enforcement resources and force state law
enforcement officers to enforce federal law," he said.
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