The Trump Administration, Jeff Sessions, and the Future of Medical Marijuana in the United States

Written by: Margot Carmichael

The long-standing battle between state medical marijuana reform and federal prohibition is nothing new; in fact, medical marijuana advocates have been fighting a seemingly uphill battle for years, just with very little progress – until Barack Obama.

When Obama took office in 2009, the medical marijuana community had high hopes for significant changes in medical marijuana laws and policies. Initially, they were met with disappointment.

The Obama administration showed a surprising lack of support for medical marijuana reform throughout the president’s first term in office. Luckily, this less than progressive stance shifted as he began his second term, and a new hope surfaced for those supporting medical marijuana reform in this country.

“I would say that, on the positive side, Obama supported the rights of states to make their own decisions about marijuana policy and appointed people who, for the most part, supported that as well (e.g. Eric Holder and James Cole),” Amanda Reiman, Manager of Marijuana Law and Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, told The Marijuana Times. (Klare 2016)

By the end of Obama’s two-term presidency, 28 states (and DC) had legalized the use of medical marijuana by the time he left office. Could Obama have done more to end medical marijuana prohibition in this country? Sure. But with our new president’s appointment of the irrefutable anti-drug warrior, Jeff Sessions, as the Attorney General, the medical marijuana community is already looking back longingly at the days of Obama.

The Trump Administration’s Stance on Medical Marijuana

As Donald Trump took office earlier this year, uncertainty about the future of medical marijuana in this country grew exponentially.

A public figure who has lived most of his life in the public eye, Trump has flip-flopped on his stance on medical marijuana several times throughout the last several years. Before taking office, he voiced lukewarm support for state rights on the regulation of medical marijuana. Then, as he stepped into the oval, his actions began to contradict his seemingly progressive personal viewpoint.

As he appointed people like Jeff Sessions and Sean Spicer into his administration, the future of medical marijuana appeared bleak. Though nothing “official” has been decided or put into action by the administration, they have hinted at crackdowns on both medical and recreational marijuana use. Many advocates and patients fear the worst is yet to come.

Jeff Sessions vs. Medical Marijuana Reform

Sessions has a reputation for being one of the most outspoken anti-drug crusaders out there. He’s made no secret of his strong position against the use of marijuana – both recreationally and medicinally. One might even say he’s made a career out of lobbying against the medical marijuana advocates, which is why the entire community heaved a collective sigh of despair when he was appointed. That sigh might have been outright panic, had they known what was in store.

Since taking office, Sessions has upped his anti-drug game, claiming medical marijuana “has been hyped too much,” and that he “rejects the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store.” And let’s not forget his alienating comment that “good people don’t use marijuana.”

These statements, which have both alienated and stigmatized medical marijuana patients and advocates, only scrape the tip of the Sessions’ anti-drug iceberg.

Sessions truly hit a nerve with the medical community when he publicly stated, “I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly, once again, that using drugs will destroy your life.” (Schipani 2017) Not only did this statement wrongfully paint marijuana as a dangerous drug and demonize its users, much like Nixon did during the War on Drugs, but it drove deeper the already painful wedge that separates family members who support marijuana use as a preventative for opioid overdose, and those who do not.

It goes without saying that Jeff Sessions is no friend of the medical marijuana community and that he will undoubtedly attempt to undo the progress made for medical marijuana reform. While the extent and scope of his plan have yet to be seen, most fear the results will be catastrophic.

Public Reaction to the Trump Administration & Jeff Sessions

With support for the legalization of medical marijuana – and marijuana in general – reaching an all-time high in 2016, it’s no surprise that Trump and his administration’s standpoint on medical cannabis has been met with extreme backlash from the public.

Jeff Sessions’ comments, intimating that marijuana will destroy your life, or that it is only slightly less awful than heroin, are garnering intense hostility from medical marijuana supporters.

Dr. Donald Abrams, a University of California-based professor of clinical medicine, has studied the numerous health effects of marijuana. He claims it is preposterous for anybody to allege that marijuana is hazardous to a person’s health.

“I have been a physician for about 40 years, and I have never admitted a patient for any complications arising from cannabis use,” the doctor has said. “The number of patients having problems with alcohol use, heroin use, and methamphetamine use is enormous. Jeff Sessions’ statement is uninformed and unfortunate.” (Berke 2017)

Dustin Chandler, father of Carly and the namesake for a law that allows CBD treatment of debilitating seizure conditions in Alabama, was less than amused with Sessions’ viewpoint. Dustin once struggled to connect and form a meaningful relationship with his daughter, but cannabidiol oil has given him a new-found relationship with Carly. He has watched her life improve significantly and claims she now has improved cognitive abilities and far fewer seizures.

Chandler says his daughter is proof that medical marijuana is not hyped, but still gave Sessions the benefit of the doubt. Rather than attack the Attorney General, he extended an invitation to his home, that way he could see the profound impact that medical marijuana can have. Carly is not the only child who has been affected by the passing of medical marijuana laws, however, nor are Carly’s father and Dr. Donald Abrams the only ones who have taken offense to Sessions’ narrow stance on medical marijuana reform.

Last year’s Gallup poll survey found that sixty percent of Americans favor outright legalization of marijuana. And even those who have previously taken a stance against marijuana are starting to recognize the benefits. This often happens because someone they know and love gets sick, and conventional medicine doesn’t help or cure their ailments. In almost desperation, some of them turn to medical cannabis. Once they see for themselves what it is capable of, many of these former skeptics become advocates themselves.

Where Do We Go from Here with Medical Marijuana?

During and after his confirmation hearings, Jeff Sessions appeared to have mellowed on his opposition towards medical marijuana. This gave the medical marijuana community hope that Sessions, and the Trump administration in general, might not be as detrimental to medical marijuana reform as previously expected. Then the hope turned to unease when Sessions was quoted as saying that he’d simply need to use ‘good judgment’ when choosing how to enforce the federal cannabis laws (if he were to be made Attorney General) just before being sworn into office.

Thanks to his most recent comments, we now know that his less rigid stance on medical marijuana was a mere facade. The purpose of that mask is unclear, unknown, and clearly deceptive, but it leaves many asking where they should go from here. Has all hope been lost for the future of medical marijuana reform in this country? Is the future of medical marijuana doomed?

Not yet.

The medical marijuana community does not give up or admit defeat easily. Advocates have been fighting this battle for decades, and no one – not even Jeff Sessions, can stop their efforts.

While statements recently made by Sessions are indeed discouraging, the medical marijuana community is looking for reasons to be hopeful and clinging to comments made by President Trump during his campaign, when he vowed to leave regulation up to the states.

Hope seems to be the keyword these days when it comes to medical marijuana reform. With so much uncertainty surrounding how the Trump administration will handle medical marijuana, it’s imperative that the community doesn’t lose sight of it.

Serge Christov, an advisor to Honest Marijuana, a Colorado-based organic marijuana producer, told Business Insider that he finds hope in the voices of the American people. “While it’s difficult to get excited about an attorney general such as Jeff Sessions, who is outspokenly against marijuana, it’s tough to deny the fact that the American people want marijuana legalization,” he said during the interview. (Berke 2017)

And let’s not forget that Trump hasn’t yet taken a firm position on medical marijuana reform, which has marijuana advocates and experts alike remaining cautiously optimistic that the administration will respect states’ rights to legalize and regulate medical marijuana.

Tom Angell, of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority, told Business Insider, “Picking a fight with the growing number of states that are enacting popularly supported marijuana laws would be a huge distraction that the White House just does not need right now.” (Berke 2017)

Aside from not wanting an unnecessary distraction, it’s impossible for the Trump administration to ignore the growing number of benefits that the multi-billion-dollar marijuana industry has produced – things like tax revenue increases, expansive job creation, and decreases in incarcerations.

All of this adds up to one thing – hope.

The voices of the American people, the unnecessary distraction that the White House would endure, and the gains within the medical marijuana industry are all reasons to remain hopeful. Our hope is not just that the Trump administration will fail in unraveling the reform and progress our country has made in recent years, but also that the message of medical marijuana and its benefits will continue to grow and spread across the nation.

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