Ever since Donald Trump took office as 45th president of the United States, cannabis industry entrepreneurs, as well as ordinary cannabis users, have worried that the Trump administration might punish them for buying, selling, growing, or using marijuana. Now, in a comment to reporters, Trump has indicated he might support a bill that would leave marijuana laws and enforcement to the states.
Although 30 states now have laws allowing for the sale and use of cannabis for medical purposes, and a growing number allow its recreational use as well, companies that sell cannabis and Americans who use it have been living in a legal limbo, because the sale and use of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Former President Barack Obama had issued instructions to federal law enforcement not to enforce cannabis laws in states where it had been legalized.
Everything seemed to change with Trump's election. Although he had said during the campaign that cannabis was an issue for states to decide, he was swept into office on a wave of Conservatism, and most Conservatives are against legalizing cannabis in any situation. The appointment of strongly anti-cannabis Jeff Sessions as attorney general seemed to signal trouble ahead for the newly burgeoning industry. Last year, Trump's then Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced that the feds might crack down on recreational marijuana use but not on medical use. That left cannabis users in my home state of Washington confused because the medical and recreational industries have been combined here, and there are no longer any non-recreational dispensaries.
To fix the disconnect between marijuana legalization in many states and federal law that makes it illegal everywhere, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner (R) and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) have introduced a bill that puts cannabis legislation and enforcement into the hands of individual states and forbids federal enforcement of cannabis laws in states where its use is legal. (Like most laws, this one has an ever-so-cute acronym: the "Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act," or the STATES Act.)
Trump was asked by a reporter what he thought of the proposed law as he headed to Quebec for the G7 summit. "We're looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes," he answered.
Now, that's far from an official policy statement. Trump could easily decide, once he's reviewed the proposed law more closely, that he doesn't want to support it after all, especially if doing so might threaten his standing with the people who helped elect him. But for those in the cannabis industry, it means there's a ray of hope. This odd reality in which selling a joint could land you in jail under federal law and give you a paycheck under state law may not last forever.