President Trump’s actions have sparked massive activist energy from progressives. His Executive Order on immigration created waves of protests at cities and airports across the country. Those protests have been significant in getting lawmakers that oppose Trump’s actions to take stands where possible. Without massive protests, Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson may never have brought the case that put a temporary stand to the immigration executive order. The protests may also have had a chilling effect on new executive orders that would generate more protests, including one order that would have curbed LGBT rights that appears to have been scrapped. Basically, the activism appears to have had some impact.
What will it look like if the Trump Administration goes after cannabis?
With the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, we now have an ardent pot critic in charge of our country’s law enforcement apparatus. Because of the Rohrabacher Amendment, the Department of Justice cannot use resources to interfere with state implementation of medical marijuana laws, which includes medical marijuana businesses at least in the Ninth Circuit. However, recreational states such as Washington, Oregon, and Colorado could be targeted if Sessions and Trump decide to make this an issue.
If they do decide to go hard after recreational marijuana, with either a general notice or targeted civil actions or even criminal law enforcement actions against cannabis entrepreneurs, what will the public reaction be? It isn’t automatic that legal changes a majority of Americans oppose will lead to massive reaction and protesting. The administration has appointed someone to the Federal Communications Commission who threatens the open internet we have today and would like to replace it with a system where internet service providers can curate content. Yet, there have been no protests or even much public opposition by political leaders against this appointment. Net neutrality as a concept is very popular, but it does not provide the same energy spark as civil rights, LGBT rights, or immigration.
One of the best ways to prevent an attack on the rights of states to treat marijuana how they see fit is to convince federal officials that marijuana issues will spark the same kind of energy as the refugee ban. This means that people who don’t care at all about cannabis as a product have to get involved. There were tons of people involved in the immigration protests that have probably never known a Syrian refugee or Iraqi immigrant, but they protested because Trump’s immigration order struck them as un-American.
In the same way, using federal law enforcement authority to attack businesses and individuals that are fully compliant with a marijuana state regulatory system is deeply un-American. It has never been the job of the federal government to involve itself in intrastate issues unless it is trying to protect civil rights or voting rights. Every success the federal government has had at the intrastate level has been to curb discrimination and protect the rights of workers, voters, and others against state actions that violate federal law or the constitution. Federal action against intrastate activity outside of those types of issues has been seen as brazen overreach.
If we grant that public reaction and public protest is a real check on federal authority, then people who care about cannabis rights must place the issue within the framework of fundamental American values. Only through that structure, and through adoption of that structure by people who are not cannabis users or business owners, will there be enough potential or actual public backlash to avoid the administration upending the current cannabis status quo.