President-elect Donald Trump has a somewhat progressive stance on drug reform. Trump supports medical marijuana and has pledged to respect the rights of states to decide the legality of medical and recreational cannabis. But his picks for cabinet might not share their leader's views. And some of them - especially his pick for attorney general - will have the power to enforce federal prohibition unless Trump specifically orders them not to.
Right now, medical marijuana is legal in 29 states - more than half the country - and recreational cannabis has been legalized in eight states, plus Washington, D.C. But the federal government still prohibits medicinal and recreational use, so those legal states operate in a gray area. And that could become a huge problem if the next attorney general tries to enforce federal laws.
It's anyone's guess who Trump will pick for the job. But CNN has done its due diligence by compiling a shortlist of likely candidates for the position of America's top law enforcer: former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions.
Here's where they stand on cannabis. (Spoiler alert: they're all opposed).
1) Rudy Giuliani: Marijuana McCarthyism
Rudy Giuliani didn't invent the War on Drugs (that was President Richard Nixon's ploy to jail political enemies, according to some sources). But he did intensify it in the 1990s as mayor of New York. Eric Schlosser - author of Reefer Madness (2004) - noted that Giuliani's "zero tolerance" toward marijuana "led to a twenty-six fold increase in pot arrests" in New York City. In the year 2000 alone, Giuliani oversaw more than 50,000 cannabis-related arrests.
But he might just be a product rather than a catalyst of that time.
"[T]he war on marijuana during the Clinton years was not driven by new strategies of policing in American cities," Schlosser added. "It was driven by the fear, especially among young Democrats, of appearing 'soft' on drugs. Condemning marijuana had become an easy way for baby boomer politicians to distance themselves from the 1960s youth counterculture. It was a way of demonstrating 'true Americanism.' As a means of enforcing conformity, the war on marijuana increasingly resembled the 1950s anti-communist crusade...Every member of Congress and candidate for elected office soon had to answer the question: 'Are you now, or have you ever been, a pot smoker?' "
Since leaving public office, Giuliani hasn't spoken out on the issue. So it's possible that his views now reflect today's political climate, which includes a more permissive stance toward cannabis.
However, his prohibitionist past still gives cannabis consumers and advocates cause for concern, said Hunter White, Communications Director for Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP), in an interview with Civilized.
"While [Giuliani] hasn't said anything recently about marijuana per se, his stance on crime, and support for New York's version of Stop and Frisk has had a huge impact on marijuana users, and has devastating implications if instituted nationally," said White.
White's point makes Giuliani's remarks from last summer's Republican National Convention seem ominous. "What I did for New York, Donald Trump will do for America," Giuliani said.
2) Chris Christie: Smoke 'Em While Ya Got 'Em
When it comes to marijuana, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie doesn't mince words. When campaigning for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Christie once said, "If you're getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it. As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws."
That stance, of course, didn't win him any friends among marijuana advocates. “Chris Christie is probably one of the worst politicians in America for marijuana," Vince Sliwoski - an Oregon-based cannabis attorney - told Civilized in an interview in August.
In a related discussion, Paul Armentano - NORML - the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law - told Civilized that Christie is a "potential threat to the gains that have been made [in marijuana reform[ and a potential harbinger to a rollback of many of those gains."
But Christie does have at least one redeeming quality: medical marijuana. As governor, he's signed several bills that have expanded the state's medical marijuana program. The bills allowed more producers and distributors to operate in the state, and added PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions.
That's probably why Christie received a D+ when NORML graded all 50 U.S. governors. So medical marijuana might be safe under his watch, but the recreational cannabis industry would have good reason to worry.
3) Jeff Sessions: The Pot Prude
Yes, at least one American politician is worse than Governor Christie on the cannabis issue. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is so backward on marijuana reform, he doesn't even want people talking about it.
“You can't have the President of the United States of America talking about marijuana," Sessions said during a Senate meeting last March. "You are sending a message to young people that there is no danger in this process. It is false that marijuana use doesn't lead people to more drug use. It is already causing a disturbance in the States that have made it legal.”
Senator Sessions is basically a talking time-capsule of the 1970s War on Drugs. The notion that marijuana leads people to abuse harder drugs has been debunked. And despite fears that loosening drug laws would increase consumption, states like Colorado haven't seen a spike in drug use following legalization.
But Sessions isn't budging on the issue. Recently, he hosted a Senate hearing on marijuana that the Drug Policy Alliance dubbed a prohibitionist party. Which sounds like skipping the night out and going straight for the hangover. At the hearing, Sessions presented prohibition as a moral crusade, not just a matter of public health and criminal justice.
He called on his colleagues to spread the message "that this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it's not something to laugh about... and to send that message with clarity that good people don't smoke marijuana."
Click here to find out more about Trump's cabinet picks.
Banner photo: Rudy Giuliani had a 'zero-tolerance' policy toward marijuana as mayor of New York City. (Albert H. Teich/Shutterstock)