Trump on Dope: legal and psychological thoughts on the future of marijuana laws
by David Anderson
During the madness of last month, other things happened. One was a partial retreat in the War on Drugs, marijuana division.
A quick review of recent changes from voter actions –
Locally (where most laws effecting our lives are made) in North Dakota, Montana, Alabama, and Florida, medical marijuana became legal. These actions all won by respectable margins. Similarly Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada all moved closer to decriminalization. For smokers that is a nice buzz.
Federal law beats state law, however, so what the F.D.A., D.E.A., and PotUS do with marijuana is crucial. Without federal agreement, state initiatives are legally in the gray: sellers can’t even use the banking system (federal jurisdiction) properly, leading to all sorts of problems. Also, our federal-state complimentary legal system is in disharmony, so some resolution is needed.
For many unwell patients, folks who don’t want to be incarcerated for decades for a joint (looking at YOU, Louisiana), and just the users whom we all know, a decision on the federal level is important. It is also helpful to state tax receipts and the complicated new legal-medical marijuana industry.
Interestingly, marijuana decriminalization has moved in demographic lockstep with our “old” friends the baby boomers as they age. Since America picked up the wacky weed habit in the 1960s, reefer madness fears and prohibition have gradually softened. Liberal court interpretations have progressed, and with (above) recent state initiatives, there is a trend towards kinder legislation.
Looking forward the courts can help guide us. The famously liberal Ninth Circuit (California, Oregon Washington, Alaska, etc.) has been the most progressive of our federal jurisdictions. The Ninth is the stoner’s friend: just recently they told the boys at the Department of Justice to step down in their persecution of state allowed dispensaries.
Keep in mind states within the Ninth’s jurisdiction are very progressive regarding marijuana . That’s the good news, because legal trends (tobacco smoking regulations, for example) tend to flow eastward – like a wave at Big Sur.
Nobody knows what Trump personally will do with our weed. This is the kind of uncertainty we get from electing a known con-man with slippery, changing policies and bendy ethics. There would have been greater certainty had we have found, say, a qualified, experienced, predictable woman for the top job, but now here we are.
So where will the federal government go with pot under Trump’s reign?
The “World’s Best Negotiator”(his quote, all the time) is changeable when it comes to definable policies: thus far he has consistently chosen whatever is expedient in the instant. This makes the future federal pot policy very speculative, so let’s look at psychology to help predict.
Irrespective of how Machiavellian, manipulative or even wonderful anybody is, a person’s core beliefs don’t change at 70 years old; one’s sexuality, political center, lifelong prejudices, love, ethics, and habits aren’t flexible in old age. Perhaps by putting Mr. Trump on my amateur psychologist’s couch, we can take a shot at how policy might develop by noting that Donald Trump makes it plain he has no time for alcoholics.
Always start at the childhood home. Trump’s parents were near teetotalers. Then there is the case of his older brother Frank Jr. (a pilot, scarily enough), who was a notorious drunk. By 42, Fred Jr. had turned his liver into a bag of sand and died. The New York Times article about this is telling. Fred Jr.’s death was an object lesson for the Donald.
In fact there are pictures of debauched celebrities staggering and dancing around Donald at Studio 54 from that era. They look drunk , but not Donald. Nobody (except perhaps Dr. Howard Dean a moment of bad judgement) would think he was ever high. He does what he does sober and straight, just like he says, which is terrifying. Even as he sniffled through the debates. Next year’s PotUS has said proudly he’s never had a drink, a line or a smoke. He has other weaknesses – the obvious one being ego, the other…well it’s something one “grabs.”
In any binary system (that of most narcissistic patients’ brains) there can only be Winners and Losers – sinners and saints – criminals and innocents – all orbiting the planet of “ME.” To Trump, substance abusers are criminals, losers, or doomed like Frank Jr. This bodes badly for any hope of altering the War on Drugs from the Oval Office: executive clemency, sentencing reform, executive action, and the like.
With Narcissistic Personality Disorder included in the mix, which, as https://twitter.com/jflier/status/759466280504193026″>former Harvard Medical School dean Dr. Jeffrey Flier tweeted, Trump “defines,” the patient makes the most expedient, self-serving comprises. These tend to lead themselves to a crony capitalism dynamic. The private prison industry’s bread and butter (and government cheese) is the War on Drugs. And they are big donors – GEO, Corrections Corporation of America and friends. But this is a pernicious story of rot for another day.
With boasts of being a “law and order president,” Trump also implies harsh punishment for offenders. The War on Drugs itself was initiated by our first “law and order president” – Nixon. Even ignoring the effect of private prison companies’ lobbying, as a “jobs” president, Trump will be loath to put thousands of prison workers (many from his blue collar base) out of work by easing up on the drug war.
Further, the fact that Trump’s psychological setup is either dismissive of real science (global warming) and medicine (vaccines/autism ), or willfully ignorant, also doesn’t help legitimizing, medicalizing, and decriminalizing weed. If hard science is marijuana’s (especially medical) chief alibi moving forward, it won’t find help from the President.
Back to legalities. When legislating morality is too difficult or controversial for any presidential candidate, they often say “Leave it to the States.” In other words: pass the buck. Policy wise this usually results in conservative outcomes: “teaching” creationism, forbidding abortion, or allowing machine guns to be sold in vending machines. Not always, though: witness the above marijuana changes at the state level. Like abortion or guns, results vary with the state in which one lives: good for California girls’ reproductive rights, bad if you’re knocked up down in Alabama.
Into this complicated matrix enter the agencies. For the future of marijuana in America, the president only has some authority over agencies such as the F.D.A. and D.E.A., (it is clearly within both their jurisdictions. President Obama recently noted this in an interview with Rolling Stone on the issue of moving marijuana out of the Schedule 1 Status: “Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by presidential edict but are done either legislatively or through the DEA. As you might imagine, the DEA, whose job it is historically to enforce drug laws, is not always going to be on the cutting edge about these issues.”
Congress can decriminalize pot if so inclined, with presidential approval (or veto?). There is no such precedent for this in Congress, however.
From a “dynamic” perspective, thanks to technology and social media, trends move faster than they did before, so we may not be waiting too long for answers, and changes, in drug administration.
None of the above legal and psychological observations are dispositive, but they’re a start at prediction. So are the legislative trends above, and judges do prefer to reflect society’s values, not just dictate them. What weight President Trump, the federal courts, states, and agencies give to each factor will decide. Hopefully soon.
David Anderson is an Australian-American attorney in New York City with a background in venture capital and criminal defense. His first degree (University of Melbourne, Australia, and Georgetown University) was in politics and psychology. He also writes for counterpunch.org and democracychronicles.com.