Image Credit: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images, IJR Photo Edit
The crusade to decriminalize marijuana is one that has spanned presidential administrations, with little success at the federal level. The last eight years have been no exception.
During a March 2015 interview with President Obama, Vice asked about the most suggested topic from its viewers: marijuana legalization.
Though during the interview with Vice, Obama makes mention of Congress descheduling it, that was an action that he could have initiated on his own. Reason.com explained in an article that predated Obama's interview with Vice:
While Congress can amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to increase or reduce restrictions on particular drugs, the statute also gives that power to the attorney general, who has delegated it to the Drug Enforcement Administration (a division of the Justice Department).
So, marijuana legalization advocates will see the end of yet another administration with no federal movement toward de- (or re-) scheduling marijuana and will have to look to the incoming Trump administration for hopes of progress. But, will they see any?
According to an article at Governing.com, 33 states (including those who passed legislation in November 2016) and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use. In fact, it is easier to list states that haven't enacted legislation making some form of marijuana legal. Currently, those states are:
- New Hampshire
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
But, many of those states have brought legislation to the table in recent years and are likely to do so again in 2017. And marijuana is big business, despite federal laws that impact sales across state lines and make difficult the ability of these businesses to handle banking. Per Fortune, legal weed was expected to rake in nearly $7 billion in 2016 and to be a $21 billion industry by 2021.
Trump's incoming administration is a great unknown for those advocating legalization of marijuana and for those states who have already legalized it in any form. Given that Trump could theoretically instruct his attorney general to ignore or enforce federal laws governing marijuana, many kept a close eye on Senator Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing Tuesday. Unfortunately, advocates were likely left leery and frustrated by answers given by Sessions when asked if he would be enforcing federal marijuana laws.
In response to questions by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) regarding Sessions' thoughts on the separation of powers where marijuana legalization was concerned, he repeated Obama's sentiment that Congress would have to make any change to federal laws governing marijuana:
“One obvious concern is the United States Congress has made the possession in every state and distribution an illegal act. If that’s something that’s not desired any longer Congress should pass a law to change the rule, it is not the Attorney General’s job to decide what laws to enforce.”
And in response to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) questioning him on prosecuting those who use marijuana for medical purposes in accordance with state laws, Sessions replied:
“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law, Senator Leahy, but absolutely it is a problem of resources for the federal government. The Department of Justice under Lynch and Holder set forth some policies that they thought were appropriate to define what cases should be prosecuted in states that have legalized, at least in some fashion marijuana, some parts of marijuana.”
All of which sounds rather ambiguous, until you hear that in April 2016, during a hearing questioning if the Department of Justice was doing its job where marijuana is concerned, Sessions famously said, “good people don't smoke marijuana,” according to an article at Business Insider. That same article notes that Trump has said he is a supporter of medical marijuana and is likely to let states make their own decisions regarding legalization.
Legalization activists plan a bit of civil disobedience by handing out 4,200 joints (which is legal) and encouraging people to smoke it during Trump's inauguration (which is not legal.) Luckily for them, D.C.'s mayor doesn't appear to be placing a priority on busting any public pot smokers at the event, according to Weed News.