Dear Pot Lawyer,
Who are the big guns in federal weed policy right now?
People will tell you different things, but in my opinion the three most important executive chairs governing weed law and policy, aside from President Trump, are 1) the attorney general of the Department of Justice (DOJ), 2) the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and 3) the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Number 1 is, of course, Jeff Sessions, but as of last week, numbers 2 and 3 on that list are goners, which makes the federal landscape for weed stranger than ever.
The DEA chief who just resigned was a former FBI agent named Chuck Rosenberg. Rosenberg was an Obama appointee, but he was pretty awful as far as weed goes. That said, he wasn’t as awful as his predecessor, who maintained that weed is as bad as heroin and was forced out after some DEA sex parties with Columbian cartel ladies. But Rosenberg was pretty bad. He kicked off his tenure by calling medical marijuana “a joke,” which resulted in 160,000 signatures calling for his head, and then opined that marijuana was only “probably not” as dangerous as heroin. Rosenberg had to walk that one back, but he proceeded to say and do other unhelpful things. I won’t try to squeeze them all into this cozy space.
The HHS administrator, of course, was Tom Price, who spent $400,000 flying around on jets while trying to sabotage healthcare. Price had a brutal voting record on weed: Unlike most Republicans, he voted six times against amendments to prevent the DOJ from interfering with state medical cannabis laws, and three times to block Veterans Affairs doctors from recommending cannabis to veterans for medical use. Price, to be sure, was no friend to weed.
So why are the DEA and HHS administrator jobs so important? As to the former, the DEA administrator runs the chief US agency for federal drug law enforcement. The DEA is an agency that sits downline from the Attorney General and arrests lots and lots of people for cannabis crimes, partly through its “Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program.” The HHS administrator, on the other hand, helps make all of that possible. HHS has safeguarded “marijuana” on Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act for decades and oversees other prohibitionist agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, which advised last year that marijuana is too dangerous to reschedule. So DEA is action, and HHS is policy.
Right now, nobody is home at either DEA or HHS—just interim administrators whom Trump will replace with sufficiently lousy candidates, on no particular timeline. The confirmation hearings for those individuals may serve as referenda on US law and policy regarding weed, much like the Jeff Sessions hearings in January. In all, this is not a bad time for the cannabis industry and consumers: Any potential crackdown is looking muddled, disjointed, and further away. Meanwhile, states’ rights and cannabis are full speed ahead, including California licensing just around the corner.
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