Pubdate: Wed, 28 Dec 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Los Angeles Times


Californians may have voted overwhelmingly on Nov. 8 to legalize
marijuana, but Americans also elected Donald Trump, whose position on
legalization has been a bit -- hazy. That's a potential problem
because marijuana is regulated under federal law, giving Trump and his
administration veto power over whether California and the seven other
states that have voted to legalize cannabis can really do so.

So where does the president-elect stand on pot? He has said he
supports individuals' right to use medical marijuana "100%," which is
good news for the 29 states that allow medicinal use of pot. As for
adult recreational use, which Californians approved through
Proposition 64, it's hard to say what he believes because his
statements have been all over the map, shifting from audience to audience.

In a 1990 speech in South Florida, where drug cartels had waged a
bloody fight in the 1980s, Trump said that the nation's war on drugs
had been a failure; it would be better, he said, to legalize and tax
drugs and spend the money on drug prevention. (Sounds a bit like The
Times' endorsement of Proposition 64.) But that was 26 years ago.
During his presidential run, Trump told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, a
staunch prohibitionist, that he was concerned Colorado's decision to
legalize recreational use was causing "a lot of problems out there."
Then, while campaigning in Nevada (where voters last month passed a
ballot measure to allow adult use of marijuana), Trump said
legalization should be decided by the states.

It would be foolhardy for the federal government to dig in on cannabis
prohibition now.

If that last statement gave a glimmer of hope to advocates of
legalization, Trump undermined it with his nominee for attorney
general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a hard-line opponent of reforming
marijuana laws.

During a Senate hearing in April on how the Department of Justice was
dealing with states that have legalized cannabis, Sessions declared
that "good people don't smoke marijuana." And he's been a frequent
critic of the Obama administration's hands-off approach to states that
allow medical and recreational marijuana.

For the last three years, the Justice Department's policy has been to
not interfere with states that allow the commercial sale of marijuana
as long as there are strict regulations in place, including rules to
prevent sales to minors and to block criminal enterprises from
participating. That policy guided California lawmakers as they crafted
new medical marijuana licensing regulations in 2015, as well as the
advocates who wrote Proposition 64. Sessions, however, has said the
DOJ's policy is wrong. "We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to
say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it
ought not to be minimized, that it's in fact a very real danger," he
declared in April.

If Sessions does take charge of the Justice Department, he could
reverse the DOJ policy and undermine California's new rules. That
would be a step backward. In most of the states that have voted to
legalize marijuana, commercialization has ushered in much-needed
regulation. It's how Colorado sought to ensure the safety of the
marijuana people were already consuming. It's how California will
attempt to stop illegal cultivation, which has devastated sensitive
ecosystems. The goal of Proposition 64 is to eliminate the black
market and transform the existing multibillion-dollar underground
industry into one regulated for consumer safety, environmental
protection and public health.

Even if the new administration doesn't reverse the Justice Department
policy, it will still need to be a partner in creating common-sense
policies. For example, because marijuana remains illegal under federal
law, pot shops typically can't open bank accounts or accept credit
cards because financial services companies fear being penalized by
federal regulators for handling money from unlawful drug sales.

That means marijuana products are typically sold for cash, and
dispensary owners pay their employees, their landlords and their taxes
in cash, inviting crime and making it harder to regulate the sale of
cannabis. With such problems in mind, California Treasurer John Chiang
recently sent a letter to Trump seeking guidance on how his
administration would deal with the conflict between state and federal

Decades of experience has shown that the U.S. can't win a war on
marijuana. It would be foolhardy for the federal government to dig in
on cannabis prohibition now, when voters are increasingly choosing to
legalize the drug for medicinal and recreational use. Trump and his
attorney general ought to adhere to the will of state voters and
demonstrate the kind of pragmatic leadership on marijuana policy that
has too often been missing in the federal government.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt