USA’s New Attorney General: Downfall or Blessing for Cannabis?
President Trump does not seem overly eager to settle on a choice for Attorney General. The top picks run the gamut from anti-cannabis to reformed prohibitionist. What does that mean for us?
On 7 November 2018, Jeff Sessions resigned from his role as Attorney General. After disagreeing with the President on the issue of the Mueller probe, despite initially being one of Trump’s strongest supporters, Trump forced Sessions to hand in his resignation. While this may not be formally ‘firing’, he certainly wasn’t waiting for Sessions to make the decision for himself to leave his office. And with two major issues on the docket – cannabis legalization and the Mueller probe – the next permanent Attorney General that Trump nominates next is going to make waves no matter what.
After the forced resignation of Sessions, Trump assigned Matthew Whitaker, chief of staff under Sessions, to the role of acting Attorney General. Democrats are, to put it mildly, unimpressed. For one, Whitaker is against the Mueller investigations, so this looks like a move by Trump to have the probe shut down.
Second, Whitaker should not have been the one to take over. If the President had acted constitutionally, the position should have gone to the next in the line of succession – deputy attorney general or the solicitor general, or even one of the assistant attorney generals.
But, this isn’t permanent – Whitaker is acting only, and as such, shouldn’t be able to shut down the probe or make any choices regarding cannabis. Unless, of course, Trump nominates him. And with a Republican Senate, it’s possible that Trump will be able to get his primary choice for nominee.
What This Change Means For Cannabis
Some believe that former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may be in the running for Trump. This isn’t a far leap, as Trump considered him for the role prior to appointing Jeff Sessions. And unfortunately, Christie notoriously despises cannabis and loves Trump.
It’s not improbable that Trump would take an anti-cannabis stance in order to get Christie’s backing on shutting down the Mueller probe. While Trump may be, at least vaguely, in support of cannabis reformation, it isn’t top on his list of priorities and he could easily push it aside for his own motives. Christie could help with that.
Of course, he isn’t the only one. Trump could find any number of supporters to nominate and open up a deal that would allow him to shut down the probe in a trade off with cannabis reform.
It’s not all negative. The thing about the Trump administration is that it’s unpredictable, and unfortunately, Whitaker’s history shows that he fits in with this motif perfectly.
Whitaker’s history with cannabis is confused. He went from claiming that CBD-only medical cannabis could help many people to critiquing President Obama and his Department of Justice for being too lax on cannabis cases. In particular, he criticized their unwillingness to prosecute states with legal cannabis that may have come in conflict with aspects of federal legislation. If he’s nominated and then confirmed by the Senate, there’s no knowing which stance he’ll take.
There are other candidates that could help cannabis reform on a federal level. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham may be up for the job. Though the image of Republican is often associated with prohibitionist, this is slowly changing. In 2015, Graham sponsored the CARERS Act. Had that Act passed, medical cannabis would right now be legal on a federal level.
The fact is that the Attorney General may not have a major impact on cannabis. After all, Jeff Sessions hated the plant, and states went forward, regardless, with legalization. With ten states boasting legal recreational cannabis and thirty-three with medical cannabis legislation, the Green Wave is coming whether the new attorney general likes it or not.
It’s important to remember that Trump is a populist. He is going to try to gain the attention of potential voters, particularly those he’s lost, like the younger generation. While that’s discouraging for Democrats, who rely on the younger population for a good portion of their vote, Trump may push cannabis regulation forward simply to try to gain a win in the 2020 election.
While that’s a positive thing in the long run, it comes with a whole wave of complicated political issues that we won’t even attempt to broach here. Regardless, all we can do is hope for the best. If Trump appoints an anti-Mueller, anti-cannabis Attorney General the movement may feel the consequences. But in reality, that’s actually pretty unlikely. Could federal legalization be on the horizon?