Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

Puff, Puff, Pence


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On Dec. 20, the Humboldt County chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws signed onto a letter to Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, asking him for "clarity" regarding the new administration's plans for Humboldt's top cash crop.

The letter, penned by the national NORML and co-signed by 50 subsidiaries, says there were three clear winners in November's election — Donald Trump, Mike Pence and marijuana — and urges the first two not to turn their backs on the third.

"Voters from across the country responded favorably to both the Trump/Pence message of law and order and the message for cannabis reforms that stop the arrests of ordinary marijuana consumers," the letter states. "Voters are less and less convinced that cannabis is a criminal problem and no longer want their hard earned tax dollars used to arrest and prosecute nonviolent users or entrepreneurs and employees of state licensed cannabis business."

Now, some might shrug this off as a little paranoid. After all, 21 states have already legalized medical marijuana use, while another eight have passed adult recreational use laws. Additionally, 15 more states have enacted laws allowing use of medical CBD oils, leaving just six states with strict prohibitions on the books that reflect federal law. Can one administration undo all this progress against marijuana prohibition?

The answer, some fear, is an unequivocal yes. Amid what feels like a national sprint toward legal weed, it's easy to forget that it's really just a pair of U.S. Department of Justice memos and an amendment to a congressional funding bill that have U.S. Attorneys across the nation standing down from prosecuting people for engaging in state-sanctioned marijuana activities. Memos can easily be replaced with new ones, and Congressional amendments don't have much more staying power.

Which brings us back to the NORML letter: "Recent cabinet appointments have sent shockwaves through patient communities, emerging industries and responsible private citizens as many of the recent nominations that have been selected are historic opponents to marijuana law reform."

While the letter doesn't mention him by name, it's clearly referring in part to the nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who opined during a Senate hearing earlier this year that "good people don't use marijuana" and lamented that "we need grownups in Washington to say that marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger." What post was Sessions nominated for? That would be attorney general, which heads the Department of Justice and holds the power to send out marijuana-world-altering memos.

For his part, Trump has been all over the map on the subject of marijuana but has generally expressed support for states' right to choose and for medical uses, while being critical of recreational legalization and saying it's "causing a lot of problems" in Colorado.

It seems marijuana reform groups like NORML are more concerned with who Trump's surrounded himself with than what he's actually said about the issue. In addition to Sessions, there's Pence, who currently governs a state where possessing any amount of cannabis can land you in jail for 180 days. Pence also refused to sign a criminal code reform bill in the state back in 2013 until legislators reinstated higher penalties for marijuana possession.

But in what some would see as a delicious twist of irony, last year Pence helped push through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was billed as a protection for religious liberties but was widely considered a way to legalize discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. The same day Pence signed the law, an activist started the First Church of Cannabis as a protected group. Its parishioners have been legally puffing ever since.

As decades of prohibition have taught, where there's a will, there's a way.


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