The global war on marijuana began in the US. And now, by virtue of its superpower status, the US is leading the way to end that war…one state at a time.
On a federal level, marijuana remains illegal. As it has been since the 1930s.
Marijuana’s legal status was last updated under President Nixon.
Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana was categorised as a Schedule I drug. Meaning the feds maintain that cannabis has a high potential for abuse and ‘no accepted medical use’.
As more states began legalising medicinal marijuana, Barack Obama declared that he had more important concerns to attend to. This resulted in the Cole memo, issued by former Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2013.
The memo recommended that federal prosecutors look the other way when it came to all weed matters. That left the states free to do as they wished.
But on exiting the White House, Obama left the budding cannabis industry, in the world’s largest economy, hanging in legal limbo.
This left the door wide open for Donald Trump to throw a wrench into the booming legal cannabis market.
BDS Analytics estimates legal cannabis sales in California alone will hit US$3.7 billion in 2018, ramping up to US$5.1 billion in 2019.
The door is now open for criminal pursuit
But on 4 January, 2018, Trump essentially tossed out the Cole memo. Attorney General Jeff Sessions signalled that federal prosecutors are again free to pursue criminal charges, even in states where voters have legalised marijuana’s medicinal and recreational use.
Yet it’s unlikely federal agents will resume a full out war on cannabis.
States’ rights are a hot button issue with Trump’s core supporters. And they don’t like to see the feds trampling around on their home turf. Any effort to do so could meet with armed resistance, a spectre no one wants to see.
Democrats and Republicans in states with legalised marijuana have already condemned the move to reignite federal involvement.
Now that the legalisation movement has gained this much momentum — and money — it’s got a lot of vested bipartisan interests backing it.
All that’s not to say Trump won’t rock the boat some more. Trump seems to enjoy doing that.
As for Australia?
Well, Australia’s pollies have never been trailblazers. They tend to sit back and see how things pan out overseas before making any bold changes Down Under.
Having only just legalised medicinal marijuana last year, legalised recreational marijuana could be decades away.