Trump deal promises no pot crackdown despite Sessions' threats
President Trump, doing a backroom political deal, has promised that states can enact their own marijuana laws and regulations, and that there will be no Justice Department crackdown on states where recreational pot is legal.
The promise was made by Trump to Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, and behind the back of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Furious that Sessions would interfere with legal marijuana operations in the Rocky Mountain State, Gardner had blocked Senate confirmation of Justice Department appointees until Trump pledged to back off.
Colorado and Washington voted in 2012 to become the first two states to legalize, regulate and tax recreational use of marijuana. Six other states have followed, including Oregon and populous California.
"Late Wednesday, I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice's rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado's legal marijuana industry," Gardner said in a Friday statement.
"Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states' rights issue once and for all."
Washington officials voiced cautious optimism, coupled with the ever-present warning that Trump could be blowing smoke.
"No one can rely on what Trump says, of course; the more interesting question is whether the legislation Gardner references is actually going anywhere -- abrogating IRS Rule 280E, opening up commercial banking, etc." Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said in an email.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson, in an interview Monday, commented: "No one is giving the high-fives on this. Given the president's history of changing course on big issues, we are remaining vigilant."
"I am cautiously optimistic that the president appears to have heard the bill of the people on this issue," Ferguson said in an earlier statement. "But this president has demonstrated a willingness to go back on his word. Until there is a formal agreement protecting Washington's well-regulated marijuana industry, I will continue to stand ready to defend it."
Support for legalizing marijuana is at an all-time high.
An October Gallup Poll found that 67 percent of Americans support legalization. Ex-House Speaker John Boehner, once an adamant foe of cannabis -- he's a Camel smoker -- last week signed on with a firm that operates medical marijuana dispensaries in several states.
Ian Eisenberg, owner of the Uncle Ike's marijuana emporiums, credited politics with Trump's reversal, which cut the knees out of the marijuana crackdown threatened by AG Sessions.
"I'm guessing pot friendly voters are already left-leaning," said Eisenberg. "A Republican, especially Trump, will likely pick up some votes by easing off the previous 'Reefer Madness' federal pot policies.
"States rights are an easy out, as are collecting sin taxes. National polls show legalized weed is gaining significant traction. Trump needs a win right now, and rednecks like pot as much as hippies. Everyone does."
Everyone except Jeff Sessions.
The attorney general announced in January that he was rescinding the Cole rule, an Obama-era policy that discouraged interference with marijuana operations operating under state laws, even though violating federal law.
Marijuana is still legally a Schedule 1 substance. As reported by the Huffington Post, Sessions once joked of the Ku Klux Klan that it was "OK until I learned that they smoked pot."
Trump dealt directly with Gardner, and did not tell Sessions that he was reversing pot policy. The President has frequently made the attorney general an object of ridicule.
"His relationship with Attorney General Sessions is an unusual one," commented Ferguson, who usually acts in unison with Gov. Jay Inslee.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, an advocate for reforming marijuana laws, said of Trump's move: "This is another head-spinning moment. We should hope for the best but not take anything for granted. Trump changes his mind constantly and Republican leadership (in Congress) is still in our way."
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a conservative marijuana reformer, said: "Now there should be no question in Attorney General Sessions' mind about the President's intention.
"This is a fundamental issue of federalism and freedom, as state after state moves to take marijuana out of the hands of the cartels and place it in a competitive market where consumers can be assured of product safety."
Blumenauer and Rohrabacher have sponsored amendment after amendment seeking to stop use of federal money to enforce federal marijuana laws. Along with such allies as Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., they have also sought to open the banking system to proceeds from legally grown, taxed and sold marijuana.
"It's past time to have those issues addressed by Congress," said Ferguson.