Opinions Worth Your ATTN:

Keith Stroup: Why I'll Miss the Obama Administration

December 6th 2016

Keith Stroup

I have found it nearly impossible to write about marijuana policy since the election, based on both the emotional disappointment at the outcome (I really did not see this coming) and the obvious uncertainty over what all of this means for marijuana policy going forward.


Like millions of Americans, I recognized we have divisions in our society, with some feeling left out of the economic progress we have made over the past eight years of the Obama administration, working our way out of the “great recession.” But I did not believe those divisions would cause a majority of the country (or more precisely, a majority of the electoral college) to elect an individual whose statements throughout the campaign were laced with racism and bigotry, and who demonstrated such a lack of compassion and empathy towards those less fortunate in our society and around the world.

I was wrong, failing to recognize the anger and resentment these people felt was sufficient to cause them to vote for a man so clearly unprepared and unqualified for the job of president — just to let us know they were angry at the establishment. 61 percent of those who voted say they did not believe Trump is qualified to be president! 

But I keep reminding myself that I lived through the Richard Nixon presidency, with all the moral and ethical lapses of that administration, so surely I can find a way to survive a Trump presidency. And I’m sure we all will. I am already beginning to think of ways we can counter the most offensive of the likely Trump missteps in the days and weeks ahead to underscore the need for better leadership at all levels. 

What this means for marijuana policy is another question. We are now moving from the relatively warm embrace of the Obama presidency to the uncertainty and potentially chilling effects of the Trump presidency.

President Obama

President Obama has given the marijuana legalization movement an historic gift by allowing states to experiment with different models of marijuana legalization without federal interference. It has given us the opportunity to demonstrate that ending marijuana prohibition and legalizing the responsible use of marijuana is an option that works well, with few if any unintended consequences. 

Any prior president, faced with a handful of states trying by voter initiative to forge their own way forward with state regulatory systems, would have had their Justice Department go into federal court and seek an injunction to enjoin the laws licensing the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana, under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Most legal observers believe this would have been a successful tactic to shut down those existing regulatory schemes. 

A state has no legal obligation to mimic federal criminal laws, so the feds could not require one to maintain criminal penalties for a marijuana offense. So a state can legally decriminalize all marijuana offenses under state law — but when a state and federal law are in positive conflict, the federal law supersedes the state law.

We are all grateful that under President Obama we have had this opportunity to demonstrate that marijuana legalization is a practical policy alternative to continued prohibition. 


The second important thing Obama has done is commute the federal sentences of more than 1,000 non-violent drug offenders. He recognized the incredible damage done to so many lives from mandatory sentencing laws and overly harsh drug sentencing. There remain far too many non-violent drug offenders in state and federal prisons, but Obama has shown the courage to at least begin to address this problem.

Early in the Obama administration the president seemed to treat marijuana smoking and marijuana legalization as a joke, not an important, serious policy issue for the country to address. But by his second term, Obama obviously recognized that public attitudes were changing rapidly on this topic, and he seemed to get the unfairness of treating marijuana smokers like criminals. I fear we will all miss Obama terribly when he is gone.

The Trump Presidency

While Trump himself said during the campaign that he favored the right of states to determine their own marijuana policy without federal interference (the Obama policy), his early appointments bring that into question. Specifically, Trump has designated Senator Jeff Sessions as his pick for U.S. Attorney General and head of the Justice Department, raising the specter of a Trump administration seeking to shut down the various state marijuana regulatory systems.

Sessions is probably best known for his statement at a Senate hearing in April of this year praising anti-drug campaigns that stress “good people do not smoke pot.” But he is also famous for saying in 1986 that he thought the Ku Klux Klan “was okay until I found out they smoked pot.” He claims he was joking.

DEA marijuana
It looks from here like Trump has designated a modern-day Harry Anslinger to head the Justice Department, and one can only imagine the far-reaching implication of that appointment. “Reefer madness,” here we go again.

Earlier in his career, Sessions was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to be a federal judge, only to be rejected by the U.S. Senate because of his racist statements. But since then he has successfully run for U.S. Senate from Alabama for four terms, and during those 20 years has to some degree rebuilt his reputation and his working relationships with others in the Senate. So while the Senate approval of his nomination is far from certain, it appears likely to be approved on a straight party line vote. The Republicans control the presidency and both houses of Congress, so they can pretty well do what they want for the next two to four years.

That is a frightening thought. Where it leads us regarding marijuana policy remains to be seen, but one would be a fool not to be concerned.