JOE DOLCE is the former editor of Details magazine and the author of Brave New Weed, an expansively researched new book that finds the author trekking from Amsterdam to Israel to Colorado to craft an up-to-the-minute portrait of the past and future of cannabis. Six days after a spasmodically sentient diarrhea sculpture was elected president of the United States, Dolce was in Las Vegas to deliver the keynote address at the Arcview Summit, a gathering of ambitious, seriously moneyed cannabis entrepreneurs. “The mood of the crowd, which was not filled with Trump supporters, was positively giddy,” wrote Dolce in a Facebook post, noting the eight states that approved or expanded access to legal cannabis on Election Day. “But is the promise of cannabis, the only next great American boom on the horizon, so intoxicating that their optimism is leading them to believe that this infant industry is too big to be shut down?”
What followed was a long and bracing post in which Dolce held forth on the iffiness of a multi-billion-dollar industry built entirely on the judicious kindness of a liberal president who found it in his heart to look the other way as Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon legalized a substance that remains federal contraband. With Obama out and Trump in, is a reversal of fortune for cannabis pending?
When I phone Dolce to talk about the threats posed by a Trump presidency, we start by revisiting the “giddy” investors summit. “The conference began with the head of Arcview, Troy Dayton, a very good guy, saying, ‘The only thing that red and blue America agree on is cannabis,’” Dolce tells me from his office in New York. “And indeed, eight states voted for it, both recreational and medicinal, and a lot of them are states that went for Trump. The Arcview entrepreneurs rightfully think this is a great thing, because it says, ‘This is what the people want,’ and it would be a gross misjudgment to abnegate the will of the people. But I kept thinking, well, that’s true, but there are no laws protecting this industry—no federal laws. And if you appoint an attorney general like Jeff Sessions, who has said things like ‘Good people don’t use marijuana,’ and you’ve got another ‘law and order’ administration, the easiest thing to go after is cannabis.”
As for the entrepreneurs who’ve been raking in huge profits and are banking on much more: “A lot of them have a real stake in the business and have put a lot on the line,” Dolce says. “They have loans and employees and health plans—real obligations in the world—and if this whole thing goes away, they’re fucked.”
What Dolce says is true, but as usual, my concern is less for investors and entrepreneurs and more for users. President Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs” was explicitly designed to make criminals out of black people, Latinos, and lefty hippies who smoked weed—a trio of types I can only imagine the Trump administration would love to persecute and potentially disenfranchise. A less scary but still potentially ruinous possibility involves rescheduling, with the government removing marijuana from its highly restrictive Schedule I classification to a less restrictive Schedule II or III. Such a move would enable government research into the medical benefits of cannabis, but it would also restrict cannabis to the world of by-prescription pharmaceuticals, effectively killing the recreational market.
“It’s a quiet period now, because of the lame-duck session, but we need to stay alert,” says Dolce. “All they have to do is write a few memos, and a lot of laws can be undone and an entire industry can go back into hiding.”
One thing in legal weed’s corner that Trump can’t ignore: the astounding profits created by recreational marijuana, which are expected only to multiply. Might sheer capitalism save the day?
“That’s the most interesting question—will Trump’s capitalist side win out or will his authoritarian bully-law-enforcement-prohibition side win?” says Dolce. “It’s one of the few times I really hope that capitalism is the driving force.”