Donald Trump's decision to pick Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate in the 2016 presidential election could be disastrous for the movement to legalize recreational marijuana use. Not because Pence is an ardent prohibitionist but because picking him as VP opens the door for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to become attorney general.
Hunter White - Communications Director of the activist group Republicans Against Marijuana (RAMP) - told Civilized that Christie has a strong chance of getting tabbed for the position of America's top law enforcer.
"Now that the VP slot is filled, and apparently the rumour is that Christie was none too happy about that decision, I would not be too terribly surprised to see Christie nodded for attorney general."
Here's why that could reverse the legalization movement.
The law of the land
Right now, selling, growing and using marijuana for medical or recreational use is federally prohibited. But exceptions have been made to respect each state's right to decide its own marijuana policy. Congress has adopted a rider in the federal budget that prevents the DEA from spending any money to crackdown on states that have legalized medical marijuana. That rider has to be extended with each budget, so it's really a stopgap that could be dropped in the future, leaving medical marijuana states vulnerable to prosecution.
States that have legalized recreational marijuana use have even less protection. The recreational industries in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska aren't being prosecuted because the Obama Administration has issued memos instructing federal prosecutors not to interfere with legal states. However, that policy will have to be extended or changed when the new administration takes over. So legal states could begin facing prosecution depending on who wins the 2016 election.
Meanwhile, President Obama, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have all pledged to respect each state's right to legalize recreational marijuana. But none of them have proposed a law that would grant legal states protection from prosecution.
"It's all well and good to respect states' rights until a US attorney goes rogue," Patrick Nightingale of Pittsburgh NORML told Civilized. "We've seen that in California, we've seen that in Oregon. The hands-off approach is meaningless unless you tell the U.S. attorney general to back off and respect states' rights."
Christie is ready to go rogue
There's no better candidate for the position of "rogue attorney general" than Christie, who has vowed to enforce federal prohibition - even in legal states. "If you're getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it," he said while campaigning for president in July 2015. "As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws."
Congress could use the budget rider to prevent him from harassing the medical marijuana industry. But unless The Donald steps in, Christie would have free reign to prosecute the recreational industry if he became attorney general.
"Nothing would stop him except for Trump," White told Civilized. "And that is concerning because he would be able to do that unabated."
Congress could intervene, but White thinks it's unlikely for them to take such a massive step forward on marijuana reform.
"Congressional action would have to be very swift and would also have to be a pretty big political leap from barely talking about rescheduling marijuana to saying that we're not going to allow the DOJ to prosecute recreational marijuana. That's kind of a big political jump to make."
Would Trump allow it?
Just because Christie wants to reinvigorate the War on Drugs doesn't mean he'll get the chance. President Trump could order him to back off the legal states. But we're really not sure how Trump would handle his attorney general because the billionaire businessman's political track record is scant.
"I don't exactly know - I'm not familiar enough with how Trump is with allies because I don't have that much of a political record to work on," White told Civilized. "I couldn't tell if Trump would essentially strong arm [Christie]. The best I could say is that - at least at the moment - he could probably get Christie to do what he wanted. But I don't know how that would be once Christie has a secured position."
Pro-pot Republicans are worried
Unfortunately, White can't say for certain what will happen if Christie becomes attorney general. But he and his fellow RAMP colleagues are concerned.
"There's a lot of concern about Christie," White told Civilized. "We hear it a lot. We hear it more from reports from our state chapters when they tell us about events that they do. And of course we hear about it online all the time. That's probably the number one thing we get asked about actually."
Banner image: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, MD, in March of 2014. (Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com)