Trump's cannabis crackdown: bring it on

Submitted by: R.E. Graswich

It's time for California to think about how Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions can attack the state's recreational cannabis market. But it's not time to panic -- it's time to exploit the opportunity.

Adult-use marijuana leaped to the crowded forefront of California's grievances with the Trump administration this week, when White House spokesman Sean Spicer made vague remarks about the U.S. Department of Justice enforcing federal laws against recreational pot.

The statements were typical Trump -- alarming and lacking specifics. California is one of eight states that have legalized cannabis for adults without a doctor's recommendation, despite federal law that bans the product under any conditions.

Cannabis decriminalization is a popular national movement, but it runs into a brick wall at the federal level. As long as the U.S. Attorney General turns a blind eye, the states are fine to pursue their legalization bids.

But with Sessions, a conservative former U.S. Senator from Alabama, running the Justice Department, things could get nasty very quickly. The potential legal exposure faced by states that have decriminalized cannabis is significant.

California has been spoiling for a fight with Trump since Election Day. The state's voters preferred Hillary Clinton over Trump by 4.3 million votes, and California political leaders have been quick to ridicule the president's early fumbles on immigration and other issues while defending state sovereignty.

A Justice Department attack on recreational cannabis would give California new opportunities to embarrass Trump and his Attorney General over a question that most American households have privately and quietly resolved. Sessions can't reverse the clock.

While recent polls show Republicans oppose recreational cannabis by 61 percent, about 59 percent of all Americans support legalization. And 71 percent support the right of states to make their own decisions about adult use. During the presidential campaign, Trump suggested he aligned with that 71 percent.

Trump is obsessed with popularity and approval ratings. Cannabis polling data suggests an attack on recreational cannabis would backfire on the president, validating the belief that he's petty, deceitful and vindictive.

If he steps back and lets Sessions take responsibility for cracking down on adult-use, Trump will appear weak and dominated by an appointee's whims. And he will violate his key promise to create jobs and support home-grown industries.

Prices for cannabis imported from Mexico have plummeted while locally grown, higher quality products have surged. A federal assault on cannabis cultivated in California and seven other states would be welcomed by Mexican drug cartels, making Trump a partner of the "bad hombres" he vilified during the campaign.

If a recreational cannabis crackdown is a loser for Trump, it could be a winner for California.

The state supports about 50,000 independent cannabis growers with a workforce of around 200,000 people. The industry is worth about $7 billion in annual sales in California. If any commodity is making California's economy great again, it's marijuana.

Technically speaking, California doesn't yet have a legal market for recreational cannabis. The state is currently drawing up regulations for adult use, but no licenses for retail sales will be issued before January 2018.

This gives California political leaders 10 months to plot their attack and defense for anything Sessions might throw at the state. The legal exposure will be tricky to navigate, given federal law, but the public relations side can be easy and go something like this:

Do Americans want the U.S. Justice Department to waste resources by attacking sovereign states and a vibrant industry, by killing jobs, hurting the economy and regurgitating an argument from the Nixon era? Why does Trump want to raise prices for Mexican drug cartels?

Trump may have a fine-tuned machine at the White House, but cannabis will gum his gears.