On Tuesday, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) wrote an open letter to Mike Pence asking the Vice President-elect to clarify the incoming administration's stance on the states that have voted to legalize marijuana. President-elect Donald Trump has previously said that marijuana legalization should be a state-by-state issue, but Jeff Sessions' attorney general nomination has sent a mixed message to the cannabis industry. Sessions has supported increased penalties for drug offenses in the past, and just recently, in a Senate hearing this April, said "marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized."
The letter plainly asks: "Where will the new administration take cannabis policy?"
It's not just stoners being confused: The answer to whether or not Trump's Justice Department will uphold federal prohibition is genuinely unclear. This ambiguity has led to problems already. While Maine was one of the states that voted to legalize recreational marijuana this November, Gov. Paul LePage has said that he plans to consult with Trump on federal government's marijuana policy before implementing the will of his constituents. The referendum is supposed to take effect January, but it's not certain that LePage will confirm the results of the vote.
Up to this point, however, cannabis advocacy groups have been oddly silent. When Sessions' appointment was first announced, the National Cannabis Industry Association, for example, didn't seem concerned at all. "Voters in 28 states have chosen programs that shift cannabis from the criminal market to highly regulated, tax-paying businesses," the organization's executive director, Aaron Smith, said in a statement. "Senator Sessions has long advocated for state sovereignty, and we look forward to working with him to ensure that states' rights and voter choices on cannabis are respected."
For some reason, many in the industry seem to think that they can rely on Trump's word and have overlooked his appointment of Sessions. "We would expect appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president to stick to the president's position on this subject. It would certainly be controversial if Sen. Sessions completely defied the president who appointed him," Mason Tvert, a spokesman Marijuana Policy Project, told USA Today.
Tom Angell, the founder of Marijuana Majority, told Buzzfeed he was certain that rolling back state legalization efforts was "a fight that they [the Trump administration] don't want to pick."
But as NORML reminds us, Trump doesn't actually have a position regarding how he will handle the discrepancy between state and federal marijuana laws—and he has already proved that he will say one thing and then do the complete opposite. It's also worth noting that Pence's record on drug criminalization is absolutely horrifying.
"Trump's nomination of Senator Sessions for the position of Attorney General should send a chill down the spine of the majority of Americans who support marijuana law reform, and who respect the will of voters to enact regulatory alternatives to cannabis prohibition. Senator Sessions is a militant marijuana prohibitionist who believes that good people don't smoke marijuana," said Erik Altieri, the executive director of NORML. "This archaic mentality is not what we need from our nation's Attorney General, and we must put pressure on President-Elect Trump to ensure that Sessions upholds Trump's campaign promise to not interfere with state marijuana laws."