President Trump and Marijuana – Oil and Water, or a Match Made in Heaven

Whew.  What a wild and painful ride.  President-elect Donald J. Trump, and at 4 states (CA, NV, MA, ME) have legalized recreational marijuana.  Only Arizona failed to get enough votes.  Arkansas (yes, Arkansas!), Florida, North Dakota, and Montana all passed their medical marijuana initiatives yesterday.

If you had bet me $1,000,000 on Monday that this would have been the outcome, I might have taken the bet against you.  I would have lost.

So what does this mean for cannabis?  There’s some that we know, and plenty that we don’t know.

With 8 states having adopted legalized adult-use cannabis, we have a whole new ball game.  California alone will dramatically expand the industry (think Colorado, Washington, Oregon combined, and then some), and Massachusetts and Maine put the East Coast on the map for recreational use.

But as always, the expansion of the industry comes against the backdrop of the federal government and the tenuous non-enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act against state-legal cannabis programs.  Over time we learned what the Obama administration policy was in terms of allowing the states’ experiments of democracy – will Trump do the same?  I bet he will.

Absolutely no one knows how Trump will govern.  He has flip-flopped more than most Presidential candidates making it difficult to pin down precisely what he thinks on the issue and how he’ll address managing cannabis laws.   Here’s what he has said:

“In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,” Trump said while taking a handful of questions during a political rally at a casino outside Reno on Thursday afternoon.”

And:

“I do want to see what the medical effects are. I have to see what the medical effects are and, by the way — medical marijuana, medical? I’m in favor of it a hundred percent. But what you are talking about [Colorado adult-use], perhaps not. It’s causing a lot of problems out there.”

In many ways this is a similar approach to what Hillary Clinton proposed on the trail.

We also know some of the folks he is likely to surround himself with:

Potential U.S. Attorney General: Rudy Giuliani.  Not ideal for the cannabis industry given his history of marijuana criminalization and “Law & Order” shtick.

Potential Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chris Christie: About the worst-of-the-worst among state governors regarding medical marijuana.

Vice President Mike Pence: Still believes marijuana is a gateway drug, so…um…yeah.  Also pretty funny that Trump almost forgot to mention him in his victory speech.

That’s the bad news.  What’s the good news?

First of all, the national cannabis industry is an unstoppable sector with extraordinary public support in polls.  And we know how Donald Trump likes polls.

Second, Trump is first and foremost a businessman.  Could he be swayed by the economic potential of legalizing marijuana, or at least easing federal law restrictions on research, banking, interstate commerce, etc?  In some ways we have tested this hypothesis in Illinois where a businessman became governor and had the chance to dramatically expand cannabis laws in order to raise millions in state taxes.  He did the opposite, and has deliberately discarded any potential economic boon to the state.  So there are limits to what a non-ideological political figure will do to raise government revenue.

We will soon be learning more about the governing style of the Trump Administration, but my best guess is that while we might see a slightly more conservative approach to cannabis in the White House, the combined economic benefits, Congressional support, and popular opinion will ensure at least a clear runway for our newest members of the recreational and medical cannabis states as of Nov. 8, 2016.