He once said legalizing drugs was a better tactic.
“You have to legalize drugs to win that war,” he said in an article in the Miami Herald, published in 1990. “You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”
But as the dust settles after a contentious election – and after another eight states legalized some form of weed – the future of marijuana under Trump isn’t quite clear.
Marijuana is now legal in some form or another in 29 states. In this election, Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas voted to legalize medical marijuana, while four states voted to legalize weed for recreational purposes – California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada – and Montana eased restrictions on its pre-existing medical marijuana law.
Marijuana proponents and opponents said the decisions – particularly California’s passage of recreational pot – could spread legalization to other states and increase pressure on the federal government to reclassify marijuana. The Drug Enforcement Administration currently puts marijuana in the same criminal category as heroin and ecstasy. In an interview last week, President Barack Obama himself suggested that enforcing federal laws against marijuana may become “untenable” if states vote to legalize.
Some interviews suggest Trump might adopt Obama’s largely hands-off approach to state legalization efforts. But although Trump once railed against the drug war, he has since rolled back his enthusiasm for reforming the country’s drug enforcement policies.
In the Washington Post last year, Trump said he believes marijuana legalization should be up to individual states. And in a February interview with Bill O’Reilly, Trump said he supported medical marijuana but expressed concerns about legalization in Colorado.
Vice president-elect Mike Pence has been a strong anti-legalization advocate. Others Trump adds to his administration may also play a large role.
“It’s quite likely Rudy Giuliani or someone like that will become attorney general, and he’s been a hard core drug warrior for many decades,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Mike Pence, the incoming vice president, has been a total drug warrior. And (Trump supporter) Sheldon Adelson was the biggest funder of the anti-marijuana effort in this year’s election.”
The patchwork of state laws across the country already has ensured the continuation of a hearty black market for weed in California and beyond. With the price of pot now expected to drop as much as 90 percent in California, many growers are likely to continue sending weed illegally out of the state.
In recent years, as federal authorities scaled back drug raids, the illegal marijuana growing industry in rural Northern California exploded, vastly eclipsing local law enforcement’s efforts to stop it.
One result, detailed in our recent investigation, is widespread sex abuse and trafficking of workers in the Emerald Triangle, one of the country’s top suppliers of illegal weed. Decades of battles between law enforcement and marijuana growers there have created a culture of secrecy that caused labor abuses to flourish.
As California and other states form regulations and begin to issue cultivation and sales licenses in 2018, officials hope the workplace abuses will decrease. But in the absence of national clarity, others believe the abuses are likely to continue for years to come.
“As long as we have a black market, unfortunately, some of that is going to continue,” said newly re-elected Assemblyman Jim Wood, a Democrat who represents part of Northern California’s primary marijuana growing region. He pledged to make special funding for law enforcement a priority in the next legislative session.
“As this industry becomes more and more legitimized, we need the resources to go to help with some of these things,” he said. “My hope is that it begins to change. It’s just not going to happen overnight.”