The ongoing drama over the Trump Administration’s stance on legalized marijuana will take a new turn by the end of July as a task force delivers its findings on the link between legalized marijuana and violent crime.
That’s actually just a small part of the task force’s mandate. In a carefully worded press release announcing creation of the task force, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wedged the word “marijuana” into the midst of a long statement about reducing violent crime in the United States.
Officially, Sessions created a Task Force On Crime Reduction and Public Safety. The overall mission of the task force is to research, through a variety of subcommittees, methods by which “the federal government can more effectively combat illegal immigration and violent crime, such as gun crime, drug trafficking, and gang violence,“ according to Sessions.
Sessions went on to write that “Task Force subcommittees” will also review current federal policies “in the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana to ensure consistency with the Department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with Administration goals and priorities.”
That’s the only mention of marijuana. But it was enough to set off a storm of speculation about what the subcommittee will report.
Reading the tea leaves.
Sesssions statement, like many from the Trump Administration on legalized marijuana, is unsettling to the legal marijuana industry without making any specific threat.
Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level but most Americans live in states where marijuana is legal to some extent. Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia, which have a combined population of about 200 million people. Adult recreational-use marijuana is legal in eight states containing about one-fifth of the American population.
Sessions’ Task Force statement linked the cannabis industry to violent crime, as he has in the past, despite many studies that have found that is not the case. Officials in Denver have said a recent spike in crime is not likely related to legalized marijuana.
No one knows for sure what are the “Administration goals and priorities” on marijuana. President Donald Trump has remained quiet on the issue but Sessions has compared legalized marijuana to heroin. The Justice Department has asked Congress to eliminate rules adopted during the Obama Administration barring enforcement of federal marijuana laws against cannabis businesses operating legally under state law. However, that ban remains in effect.
All of this is creating uncertainly in a multi-billion industry.
Anticipating the Task Force report
Sessions asked for a report from the task force by July 27. People on both sides of the debate have been outspoken about the possibilities of what the report could contain.
U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman of California told the New York Times that Sessions “is giving everyone whiplash by trying to take us back to the 1960s.” Sen. Corey Booker of New Jersey told the Times that a federal crackdown on marijuana “will not make our communities safer or reduce the use of illegal drugs.”
Still, no one is sure what is coming. In a July speech in Nevada, Sessions failed to even mention the state’s just-launched adult-use sales. He also did not mention marijuana in a speech in Dallas the day before.
In a situation with so much ambiguity, even something like Sessions not mentioning marijuana has become news.