An unhinged narcissist has been inaugurated, and his pick for the top law-enforcement officer in America—a man with both a racist record and views on pot that are so archaic they make Ronald Reagan look like Rick Steves—will most likely be confirmed this month. Could things for our state's nascent legal pot industry get any worse? Should we all start stockpiling cheap ounces before the Feds shut everything down?
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Not so fast. Despite the awfulness at the top of the ticket, November's election was a historic step forward for legal weed. Voters in four states legalized recreational weed, including the world's sixth largest economy: California. Voters in four other states decriminalized medical cannabis. That means a staggering 68 million Americans live in states with recreationally legal cannabis; add in the 135 million Americans with access to medical cannabis and you have 63 percent of the country living under some form of legalized cannabis.
That is a huge practical obstacle against Donald Trump and Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, the anti-pot attorney general nominee. But under the laws of the federal government, cannabis possession and use are still completely illegal. And even if the Feds don't try to shut down legal weed directly, there are plenty of other ways for Sessions to make it more difficult for the legal industry to operate effectively.
If the legal weed industry is going to thrive and start to tackle its many problems—and anyone watching knows there are problems with legal weed—the industry needs some high-powered activists in Washington. Enter the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, the first-ever organization of congressional representatives formally banding together with one mission: to keep weed legal in states where it's legal and make the industry better.
Two representatives—California representative Dana Rohrabacher and Oregon representative Earl Blumenauer—announced the caucus last month and, although the caucus hasn't had its first meeting yet, Seattle congressman Adam Smith says he is already in.
"I am deeply concerned, and we need Congress to do everything we can to try to protect states' rights," Smith said. "I am concerned [about] Sessions in particular, given what he thinks—there is certainly concern with what Sessions could do."
Blumenauer, speaking by phone with The Stranger, couldn't give a date for when the caucus would be formally announced but said he expects it to be early in this congressional session. Blumenauer said representatives from both sides of the aisle have already expressed interest in joining.
"I don't know if it's 10 or 100 [representatives], but I think there's interest and it will grow throughout this Congress as there is more momentum and marijuana businesses and advocates continue to be more organized," Blumenauer said.
If every representative followed the will of their state laws concerning cannabis, the Cannabis Caucus would have a membership in the hundreds—276 members of Congress come from states with some form of legalized cannabis. That's a hugely optimistic number, but there are signs that Congress is warming up to legal pot. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, a budgetary amendment that prevents the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws, failed when it was first introduced in 2003, with only 152 yes votes, compared to 273 no votes. The amendment passed for the first time in 2014, with 219 yes votes, and support for the amendment increased by another 23 votes in 2015.
Blumenauer said that one of the most effective ways to petition Congress on cannabis policy is by small-business owners meeting in person with representatives in Washington, DC.
Kevin Oliver, owner of the farm Washington's Finest Cannabis and executive director of NORML Washington, said he plans to travel to DC to visit members of Congress and lobby on behalf of legal cannabis. Oliver said he worries a fight from the Feds will only delay the solutions to existing problems in the market.
"If [Sessions] goes ahead and sues the states [that have legal weed], you are looking at a very long and drawn-out battle that will be very unpopular," Oliver explained. "I don't see any great changes coming, as far as positives for the industry or the consumer."
If Sessions does go after Washington's legal cannabis, there is still the nuclear option, which The Stranger reported on recently. In a nutshell, Alison Holcomb, the architect of legal weed in Washington State, floated the idea that the state could bring the regulated market down, while also erasing any mention of marijuana from state law, to create the federal government's worst nightmare—because any crackdown on legal weed here would require local law enforcement's help. And if there were no laws about cannabis on the books, local law enforcement would not be able to help. But there are huge downsides to going nuclear. Let's hope it doesn't get to that.