If there is one thing I am not prepared to do it is predict what the members of the Trump presidential cabinet will do with their power to invoke policy change. The smorgasbord of billionaires, retired generals, and NeoCon and Alt-Right ideologues is lining up to be as scorched earth as any previous cabinet in terms of human rights, environmental policy, economics, and beyond.
But a reading of the tea leaves does give one reason for pause and concern when it comes to drug policy, and more specifically, cannabis policy. President-elect Donald Trump has formally nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a known anti-pot zealot, for his attorney general. Sessions considers pot use tantamount to heroin use. He never met a drug law he did not like.
Trump is expected to select retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security, as has been confirmed by the Washington Post. Kelly is apparently reasonably supportive of medical marijuana, but is staunchly against legalization.
Georgia Rep. Tom Price is being eyed as the secretary for Health and Human Services for the Trump cabinet. He too is a Sessions style anti-pot crusader.
And then there is Jim O’Neill, who is an associate at Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital Management, and who is being portrayed in the media as a “legalization activist,” which might be a slight stretch of the word. O’Neill was a founding member of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, and is apparently being considered to lead the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA is the organization most responsible for deciding the medical value of substances like cannabis, and earlier this year they concluded that cannabis “has high potential for abuse” and offers “no currently accepted medical use in treatment.” But top members of the FDA have publicly raised questions about the appropriateness of listing cannabis as a federal Schedule One substance, but that is what may be a red flag to cannabis retailers and legalization advocates.
Anyone paying attention knows that politics plays as an important role as science does in these matters when government is involved.
Danielle Keane, communications associate at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is reported to have said, “If O’Neill were to be confirmed as head of the FDA it would, at the very least, provide a voice of support in favor of marijuana law reform within an administration that is appearing to largely be made up of anti-marijuana appointments.”
Is that proof of a grow-light at the end of the prohibition tunnel?
And Marijuana Majority’s Tom Angell has said, “Seeing Jim’s name floated gives us reason for a little optimism in the midst of so many old school drug warriors being tapped for other key posts. I feel confident that if he becomes the next FDA commissioner, we will be in very good position to finally reschedule marijuana.”
Ah, but that, as Frank Zappa sang, might be “the crux of the biscuit.” A change in marijuana’s schedule, indeed.
In the states where cannabis has been legalized for retail sale the pharmaceutical industry has seen drug sales lessened, and quite a bit. In fact, a slew of various pharma drugs have been experiencing a decrease in sales in communities where retail cannabis is legal, and it appears to be just the tip of the ice berg. Of course, overdose deaths have already decreased in those regions, but that does not seem to be very important to that particular industry, as new customers are being born, or are being aged, every minute.
Trump has gone on record (how much that means is debatable) as saying that pharmaceutical drug prices have gone too high. If Jim O’Neill (a climate-change denier, among other things) gets the job that might be an indication that, indeed, cannabis could be in for a long awaited schedule change.
But that could be just the problem. Rather than de-schedule the herb entirely, the basket of cabinet deplorables that Trump is amassing could be an indication that a potential change to Schedule II could be in store.
What if Trump offered medical cannabis, a potential trillion dollar industry that is already competing with petrol-chemical drugs, to the pharmaceutical industry in exchange for a promise to slightly reduce the cost of some prescription drugs?
How that would impact the sale of cannabis in stats that have legalized is not certain. Such a move could cripple the burgeoning medibles industry and hand over control of oils, tinctures, and medibles to Big Pharma. A Schedule II change could create a regulatory bureaucracy that could potentially stop the sale of pot in the states that have allowed such in its tracks. Schedule II could seriously impact the trajectory of pot legalization and shape the industry for years to come.
Would this collection of ideologues make such a bold move and displace millions, if not billions, of dollars in state taxes being generated, and cost the jobs of those working in the fledgling retail cannabis industry? That’s anyone’s guess.
Trump is all business, and in some ways American policy is up for sell to the highest bidder. Trump is all about the “art of the deal,” and the Oval Office is looking more like a traditional corporate board room than ever as all the signals indicate that any protocol or convention that we have grown used to might be rendered obsolete.
Trump has almost revealed a contempt for conventional political decorum, and Wall Street and corporate CEO mouths are already watering at the specter of a new era when policy can be shaped by merely offering up for exchange anything that President Trump may think would be politically expedient and fruitful for his administration.
The apprentice president is no slouch — he is a devious, shrewd, calculated strategist who thinks in terms of a cost / benefit analysis in every deal he approaches. His brand loyalty is to his own brand, and he apparently sees everything through the tinted lens of a bottom line.
The word “legalization” means different things to different people. Changing the Controlled Substances Act Federal Schedule of cannabis to Schedule II could be marketed as “full, complete legalization of medical marijuana,” something that polling indicates would be favorable to the majority of his diverse population of supporters.
Why his presidency would not mean a boon to the interests of the pharmaceuticals industry is a mystery that we will simply have to wait out to get an answer to. But a schedule move could be just the thing to help him fashion an appearance as being a compassionate conservative while taking a mega-trending industry out of the hands of the community based economic activists who have built the present paradigm and handing it over to the corporate sector for fun and profit.
The cost could very well be that a rescheduling of cannabis would be just the cup of tea that the Big Pharma lobbyists could sweeten up with some backroom negotiations that kick every cannabis patient swiftly under the “cannabus” again. That is something that the patients and their providers have already grown all too accustomed to on an individual state level.