Can Trump’s Attorney General Stop Pot Reform?

Many in the cannabis industry are concerned that the new administration might slow or reverse the rising tide of support for reforming weed policy.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s shocking presidential victory, many in the cannabis industry have expressed concern over how his administration might slow or reverse the rising tide of support for marijuana policy reform. The very fact that the real-estate tycoon won the election so unexpectedly has overshadowed landmark successes in the legalization movement. On Nov. 8, California, Massachusetts, and Nevada legalized recreational use of pot by adults while Maine, Florida, North Dakota, and Arkansas adopted laws allowing cannabis to be used for medical purposes. In addition, Montana voters opted to repeal restrictions on medical marijuana.

Given that Trump won’t be sworn in until Jan. 20, the best that any of us can do to understand what he might have in store is to scrutinize his Cabinet picks. The announcement in November that Trump has nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be attorney general has left many in the industry expressing grave concerns.

Aaron Herzberg serves as general counsel for CalCann Holdings, a holding company that specializes in licensed marijuana real estate opportunities in California. He said in a statement that Jeff Sessions is “the worst pick that Trump could have made for attorney general as it comes to marijuana issues.”

“This selection bodes very poorly for the Trump administration to adopt a marijuana-friendly policy,” he added.

Jeff Zucker, president of Green Lion Partners, a Denver cannabis business strategy firm, was slightly more optimistic in his outlook.

“We’re hopeful that the industry’s advancement, especially in the most recent election, will lead to his being open minded as to the incredible benefits cannabis is already having on the country and could eventually have on a federal level,” Zucker said.

Still, Zucker remains aware that the industry may be in for quite a battle.

“Should he ignore the clear will of U.S. citizens, the industry is prepared to fight for patients’ and citizens’ rights to this incredible plant that has improved so many lives.”

David Dineberg is the CEO of KIND Financial, a business that provides seed to sale software and financial technology for the cannabis industry. He took time away from his Thanksgiving holiday to elaborate further on how his colleagues and peers are reacting to the news of Sessions’ nomination.

“There are no positives in the conversation about it,” he told SF Weekly. “The conversation is all either negative or people being unsure, not knowing what’s really going to happen.”

Dineberg also emphasized that he “truly believes” Trump’s Cabinet selections will serve at the pleasure of the president. This means that as long as Trump doesn’t reverse course on his past support for states’ rights, Sessions would have to “go rogue” if he wishes to take on the cannabis industry.

There is also the reality that now a majority of American citizens support some kind of marijuana reform. Support for marijuana reform is now truly bipartisan, an incredible development given the sharp divide on many of the country’s most pressing issues. The proof is that deep-red states like Arkansas and North Dakota have now legalized medical marijuana, and that in Florida, where 49.1 percent of voters opted for Trump, 71 percent voted in favor of a medical-marijuana initiative.

“I really don’t see this as a red-versus-blue issue anymore,” Dineberg said. “How many times in our lifetime have we seen a social movement turned into a business and an industry? We are creating tens of thousands of jobs. We’re creating hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. If the president-elect is counting on job creation, growth in the economy, and all the things he’s talking about, marijuana, I believe, is the best example of that in the country right now. It’s the fastest-growing industry in the country.”

The evolution in acceptance for marijuana continues to expand. Two weeks ago, Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro J. García Padilla removed marijuana from the list of controlled substances tested for the public sector. Israel remains a strong international presence in the cannabis sciences, and Dineberg cited developments in Latin America, countries in the European Union, and parts of the Middle East as proof that the effort to legitimize and legalize cannabis is now a global pursuit.

Dineberg suggested that should Trump and his administration opt to reverse Obama administration’s position that states have the right to change their marijuana laws, he is assured of defeat in a potential bid for re-election. While it may prove problematic that the United States seems far more unified over marijuana than over its next president, it does mean that the progress and support for the cannabis industry will need to be protected if Trump wishes to keep the majority of the country happy.

“Look at the states that Trump won,” Dineberg noted. “Michigan passed medical this year, Ohio passed it last year and will be implementing in 2017, and Florida, too. These are states that he won in 2016. If he changes marijuana laws on these guys, he will not be winning those states again. I think he really needs to think about that.”

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