In November, eight more states voted to legalize medical or recreational marijuana. In all, 29 states have approved the medicinal use of marijuana and only six have done nothing to ease the prohibition of pot. Legal marijuana is a more than $1 billion industry in Colorado alone.
All that could be undone by one simple fact: President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to be his attorney general and, as reported by the magazine Politico, Sessions has a long history of opposing marijuana and any steps to legalize it. He has called reform of marijuana laws a “tragic mistake” and once said he thought members of the Ku Klux Klan “were OK until I found out they smoked pot.”
A reversal of current policy by Sessions is a real possibility. Under federal law, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic, the same as heroin. With that, he would need no additional authorization or authority to start cracking down on all involved.
That is a problem – and not just for those who like their weed. For starters, everywhere it has occurred, legalization has been accomplished by a vote of the people. Barring a profound constitutional conflict, those votes should be respected.
More than half of all Americans now live in states where medical marijuana is allowed, while 65 million live where recreational marijuana is legal. And, according to Politico, marijuana is now a $6.7 billion industry. Fortune reported in February that it topped $1 billion in Colorado alone.
It also means jobs. A trade publication, Marijuana Business Daily, claims the pot industry employs more than 25,000 people in Colorado. Citing industry sources, CBS News reports that nationwide, the marijuana trade employs roughly the same number of people – more than 100,000 – as there are flight attendants, web developers or librarians.
Moreover, legal marijuana has become a major source of revenue for a number of states. Counting total revenue from marijuana taxes, licenses and fees, Colorado reported that it took in almost $73 million in one year.
That is real money, especially to a state perennially strapped for cash. (One can only imagine how much legalized marijuana will mean for California.)
It would be wrong to let one man upset all that based solely on his own prejudice – and in defiance of millions of voters.
It seems unlikely that the Senate will refuse to confirm Sessions as attorney general, despite his poor record on civil rights and other issues. But there is one other man who could prevent causing trouble over pot. As president, Donald Trump could simply tell Sessions to respect the voters and leave marijuana alone. And Politico quoted U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, urging just that.
“If we don’t take action and hold President-elect Trump accountable,” Polis said, “in one fell swoop, the federal government could damage state economies, and discourage entrepreneurship – placing some of our innovators behind bars, all while eroding states’ rights.”
Polis is right, of course. The question now is whether Trump is listening.