Tag: President Trump

Tom Marino Out as Trump’s Drug Czar Nominee, Again

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Tom Marino, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the nation’s drug czar, is withdrawing from consideration following reports that he played a key role in weakening the federal government’s authority to stop companies from distributing opioids.

Marino “has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!”

Trump’s announcement comes a day after the president raised the possibility of nixing the nomination following reports by The Washington Post and CBS News. The reports detailed the Pennsylvania lawmaker’s involvement in crafting a 2016 law, signed by President Barack Obama, that weakened the Drug Enforcement Administration’s authority to curb opioid distribution.

Interviewed on Tuesday by Fox News Radio’s Brian Kilmeade, Trump said Marino told him that “if there’s even a perception that he has a conflict of interest … he doesn’t want anything to do with” the job. Trump did not say when he and the congressman spoke.

“He felt compelled. He feels very strongly about the opioid problem and the drug problem and Tom Marino said, ‘Look, I’ll take a pass,’” Trump added.

Trump had told reporters during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden on Monday that he will look “very closely” at the news reports. He added: “If I think it’s 1 percent negative to doing what we want to do, I will make a change,” he said.

Democrats had called on Trump to withdraw the nomination. Marino could not immediately be reached Tuesday for comment.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Marino’s decision was the “right decision.”

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, whose home state of West Virginia has been among the hardest-hit by the opioid epidemic, welcomed the news.

“We need a drug czar who has seen these devastating effects and who is passionate about ending this opioid epidemic,” Manchin said Tuesday.

Manchin had scolded the Obama administration for failing to “sound the alarm on how harmful that bill would be for our efforts to effectively fight the opioid epidemic,” which kills an estimated 142 people a day nationwide.

In a letter to Trump, Manchin called the opioid crisis “the biggest public health crisis since HIV/AIDS,” and said, “we need someone leading the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy who believes we must protect our people, not the pharmaceutical industry.”

60 Minutes Did Him In

The Washington Post and 60 Minutes reported Sunday that the drug industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, including Marino, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns. The major drug distributors prevailed upon the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department to agree to the industry-friendly law, which undermined efforts to restrict the flow of pain pills that have led to tens of thousands of deaths.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the bill’s lead Senate sponsor, defended the measure Monday, calling allegations that he or Marino “conspired” with drug companies “utterly ridiculous.” Hatch, a 40-year veteran of the Senate, said he was “no patsy” of the drug industry.

The language affecting DEA enforcement authority was suggested by DEA and the Justice Department, Hatch said, adding that the agencies could have tried to stop the bill at any time — or recommended that Obama veto the measure.

“Let’s not pretend that DEA, both houses of Congress and the Obama White House all somehow wilted under Representative Marino’s nefarious influences,” Hatch said.

A White House commission convened by Trump and led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has called on Trump to declare a national emergency to help deal with the growing opioid crisis. An initial report from the commission in July noted that the approximate 142 deaths each day from drug overdoses mean the death toll is “equal to September 11th every three weeks.”

Trump has said he will officially declare the opioid crisis a “national emergency” but so far has not done so. He said Monday he will make the designation next week.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Monday she will introduce legislation to repeal the 2016 law.

Trump-Dem Budget Deal Extends MMJ Protections to Dec. 8

Medical marijuana patients, growers, and dispensaries have three more months of protection from Jeff Sessions and any federal crackdown, thanks to the deal cut late last week between President Trump and Congressional leaders.

The hurricane relief, federal spending, and debt ceiling agreement between President Trump and Congressional Democratic leaders included a Rohrabacher-Blumenauer clause, which will effectively shield state medical marijuana programs from federal intrusion until December 8, 2017.

The language in the deal means the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent states—as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico—from “implementing a law that authorizes the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

The Trump-Dem deal, which caught Republican leaders by surprise, effectively ended (at least temporarily) the move by House Republicans to scuttle the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. That measure, which has been in place in various forms since 2014, uses a budget amendment to prevent the various Justice Department agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from arresting and prosecuting people abiding by state medical cannabis laws.

How did that happen?

Early Wednesday, the House approved a standalone measure to provide nearly $8 billion in relief to Hurricane Harvey victims. The House sent the measure to the Senate on a 419-3 vote. Senate Democratic leaders picked up the Harvey bill and bundled it with a federal spending package and debt ceiling extension. Republican leaders hated the co-mingling of the bills, with House Speaker Paul Ryan calling the idea “ridiculous.”

But President Trump wanted to move past the budget and debt debate and get on with trying to pass a tax reform package–and he may have seen the Democrats’ offer as a way to do it.

In effect, Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders presented President Trump with dueling offers late Wednesday. Trump went with the Democratic package, which funded Hurricane Harvey relief to Texas and extended federal spending and the debt ceiling through December 8. With the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) within days of running out of money, Congress was under intense pressure to pass hurricane relief. Congressional leaders relented, passing the Harvey-budget-debt deal in the House and Senate with heavy Democratic support and light Republican opposition.

The upshot: Hurricane Harvey victims receive relief, and the federal budget and debt ceiling debate gets kicked down the road to early December.

Where did medical cannabis fit in?

The key, for cannabis purposes, is that last week’s deal was based on the Senate version of the federal spending package, which had already passed earlier this year. That version included the medical marijuana protection language. The House version of the federal spending measure specifically did not include that language, thanks to a maneuver by the House Rules Committee Chairman, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX).

But the House version had yet to be voted on, while the Senate had already passed its bill—so the deal included the Senate language, not the House. The final deal had nothing to do with medical marijuana, but patients and providers benefitted nonetheless.

Of course, the whole thing (except the hurricane aid) expires in three months. So we’ll see you back here in early December.

RELATED STORY

House Committee Blocks Medical Marijuana Protections

Tom Marino Back in Running to Be Trump’s ‘Drug Czar’

The White House has announced that President Donald Trump intends to nominate US Rep. Tom Marino to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

RELATED STORY

Trump Taps Tom Marino as Drug Czar. That’s Good (and Bad) for Legalization.

Marino, an early supporter of then-candidate Trump, has been a candidate for the role—commonly known as White House “drug czar”—since at least April, when the president first said he intended to appoint the Pennsylvania Republican to the post. But Marino withdrew himself from consideration in May citing a critical illness in his family.

In the position, Marino would steer the administration’s policies on drug control. And as Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott reported in April, his record indicates he’s far more concerned with the country’s ongoing opioid epidemic than with regulated cannabis markets.

RELATED STORY

Did Trump Just Fire Drug Czar Nominee Tom Marino?

During his time in Congress, Marino has worked to expand access to treatment for individuals struggling with opioid addiction. He also led a successful legislative effort to address cross-border drug trafficking.  If those past examples are any indication, Marino would likely direct most of his attention as drug czar to America’s opioid crisis. A White House panel in July urged the president to declare a national emergency around opioid overdoses, which are estimated to have killed roughly 60,000 people in 2016.

Marino’s position on opioids, however, could raise concerns within the cannabis industry. He seems to favor tougher criminal enforcement on the ground and more leniency for drug manufacturers, an approach that echoes that of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In May 2016, for example, Marino suggested that authorities lock up nonviolent drug offenders in a “hospital-slash-prison,” with release dependent upon the treatment program’s approval. If, like Sessions, Marino sees cannabis as a contributor to America’s overdose epidemic—just last week, Sessions said the idea of legalizing cannabis “makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck”—he may be resistant to the growing body of evidence that medical cannabis can help combat the opioid crisis.

If confirmed by the Senate (which reconvened today), Marino would replace Richard Baum, the ONDCP’s acting head. His Congressional seat would need to be filled via a special election.

RELATED STORY

Trump Comments Spark Boycott of LA Cannabis Expo

Trump Comments Spark Boycott of LA Cannabis Expo

A boycott of the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo, slated for Los Angeles in mid-Sept., started with a Facebook post on Thursday morning. By Friday afternoon it had spread to a number of prominent members of the cannabis industry.

The boycott is the latest fallout from President Trump’s comments defending white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

On Thursday, the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) put up a Facebook post announcing its withdrawal from the expo due to the presence of Roger Stone, who is booked as a keynote speaker. Stone, a self-proclaimed political dirty trickster, is a longtime mentor and advisor to President Trump, and has a long history of ugly racial incidents in his past. He’s also a vocal advocate of cannabis legalization.

RELATED STORY

Leafly Interview: Dirty Trickster Roger Stone Talks Cannabis Legalization & Trump

The MCBA posted this on Thursday: “As a result of CWC choosing this guy as their keynote speaker, MCBA has decided to withdraw from attendance and speaking roles at this conference. CWC, you know better so there’s no excuse not to do better.”

Later that day, the Cannabis Industry Journal announced that it would “no longer be a media partner of any CWCBExpo events, unless they remove Roger Stone from the keynote slot.”

The Journal editors added:

“In choosing Roger Stone to keynote, the CWCBExpo is making a Faustian bargain and we don’t believe this is right. We need to stand by our morals; the ends don’t justify the means. The cannabis industry is no place for racism and we would like to see Roger Stone removed from the keynote position at CWCBExpo.”

RELATED STORY

Kevin Sabet Takes on Roger Stone at Politicon

Scott Giannotti, a managing partner of the CWCBExpo, replied in a post addressed to Minority Cannabis Business Association leader Jesce Horton: “How convenient MCBA is promoting CWCBExpo’s biggest competitor NCIA, who hosts ALL WHITE CONFERENCES. Meanwhile CWCBExpo works hard at producing the most politically and culturally diverse conference program in the cannabis industry. But we’re racists ok lol I’ll put our show guide up against NCIA’s any day you want and show you how dumb you people are.”

That did not go over well. Wanda James, one of the most respected entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry, responded: “this is going big.”

Other leaders voicing their support for the MCBA’s position and withdrawing from the conference included Aunt Zelda’s co-founder Mara Gordon, as well as former Drug Policy Alliance California policy manager Amanda Reiman, who’s now vice president for community relations at Flow Kana.

RELATED STORY

The Haymaker: Solving the Roger Stone Dilemma

Stone’s presence has long made many cannabis activists uneasy. But he’s also been seen by some as a symbol of the common ground that conservatives and liberals can find on the issue of legalization. That uneasy alliance was shaken by Trump’s words and actions in the past week. For many, inviting a close Trump advisor like Stone to a cannabis event jumped a lane over the past seven days. What was once seen as a good-faith instance of reaching across the political aisle became a show of tacit support for Trump’s toxic views on race and violence.

Kaliko Castille summed up the feeling of many in the MCBA camp in Weed News earlier today:

“Maybe Roger Stone isn’t a racist, but you know what’s just as bad as being a racist? Using other people’s racism as a means to achieve your own political ends. There are plenty of well-intentioned conservatives that are coming around on our issue who don’t flirt with racism to make their point. If you want a principled conservative with political connections to speak at your events, invite Grover Norquist.

I don’t care how connected Stone is to Jeff Sessions or Donald Trump, if our industry decides to buddy up to people who have blood on their hands, there is no way for us to come out clean.”

The Haymaker: Why Is Jeff Sessions Hiding His Task Force?

‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s weekly column on cannabis politics and culture.

What’s in the report, Jeff?

Does it not say what you thought it would say?

Sessions may have assumed the task force would give him cover to come after legal cannabis. But what if it didn’t?

For nearly a week, cannabis and judicial reform advocates have been awaiting a report from the Justice Department’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. That’s the group Attorney General Jeff Sessions established on Feb. 27 to “identify ways in which the federal government can more effectively combat illegal immigration and violent crime, such as gun crime, drug trafficking, and gang violence.”

Included in the task force was a subcommittee looking specifically at cannabis laws.

Sessions ordered the task force, the members of which were never formally revealed, to report their findings to him no later than July 27.

July 27 came and went. No report.

Back when he had a job. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

To be fair, last week was a busy one for the Trump administration. There was the Jared Kushner hearing; the Boy Scout speech; Anthony Scaramucci’s exegesis on Steve Bannon and auto-fellatio; the defeat of Skinny Repeal on the Senate floor; the firing of Reince Priebus; and the Friday third act show-stopper, The Sacking of The Mooch. Meanwhile, a number of senators developed hand cramps writing letters to save the job of AG Sessions, who sent himself to El Salvador for most of last week.

You know that move where you duck below your boss’s sightline when he’s mad at you? Jeff Sessions hopped a military transport to Central Fucking America.

What’s This All About?

The DoJ task force has been shrouded in secrecy for months. We do know it’s co-chaired by Steve Cook, an assistant US attorney in Tennessee; and Robyn Thiemann, a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy. The marijuana subcommittee is led by Michael Murray, counsel to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Beyond that, we know nothing about it.

‘It’s difficult to ascertain any clear information about the subcommittee.’

Taylor West, NCIA deputy director

“It’s difficult to ascertain any clear information about the subcommittee and how they’re working,” National Cannabis Industry Association deputy director Taylor West told US News reporter Steven Nelson earlier this year. And yet Sessions claims to be basing major policy decisions on this secret committee’s recommendations.

It’s also unclear to whom the task force members are talking—if anybody. When Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), one of President Trump’s most ardent supporters, tried to meet with Sessions about the task force and cannabis, Sessions told him to go Mooch himself. Okay, not true: Sessions’ office politely declined the request. But the effect was the same.

Let me float a theory here. Sessions ordered up that task force on the same principle that guides trial lawyers: Never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer. He probably assumed the final report would give him cause to ramp up mandatory minimum sentences, and civil asset forfeitures, and marijuana crackdowns.

But what if it didn’t?

RELATED STORY

Jeff Sessions Ready to Ramp Up More Asset Forfeitures

Did Proof ‘Become Available’?

Sessions has said he will “act upon recommendations” from the task force “as they become available.” So he’s renewed the federal push for mandatory minimum sentences. He’s reinvigorated the use of civil asset forfeitures, a long-discredited tool that even conservative institutions like the Heritage Foundation find odious and counterproductive. But he has not presented any evidence or arguments put forth by his task force to justify those moves. Which he’d do if he had the evidence, wouldn’t he? Wouldn’t you?

I bet he doesn’t have the goods.

Look at the link between cannabis and violence, which Sessions takes for granted. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved,” he said in February.

But here’s what the data actually show: There is no causal or correlative link between legal cannabis and the violent crime rate.

RELATED STORY

Should Cannabis be Legalized? 10 Arguments in Favor of Legalization

Let’s Go to the Data

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report is the gold standard for data on violent crime. According to FBI statistics, violent crime fell by 8% across the United States between 2010 and 2015. That span gives us a pre-legalization baseline (2010) and a fully implemented, all-stores-open year (2015). Full year data for 2016 is not yet available.

In individual states, the violent crime rate fluctuated year-to-year regardless of a state’s cannabis laws. Take a look at the table below. I’ve gathered an assortment of states–some with adult-legal cannabis, some with medical legality only, and some with absolutely no legality. Alabama, where cannabis remains highly illegal, saw a 25% spike in violent crime. Washington, where adult-use legality flourishes, saw a 10% drop in violent crime. Colorado (legal) held steady. Oregon (legal) saw a small 3% rise. Utah (very illegal) saw an 11% rise in violent crime. Texas (very illegal) recorded an 8% drop.

Table: Violent Crime Incidents Per 100,000 Residents

US/State 2010 2012 2014 2015 % Change, 2010-2015
United States 404.5 387.8 361.6 372.6 -8%
Alabama 377.8 449.9 427.4 472.4 +25%
Alaska 638.8 603.2 635.8 730.2 +14%
California 440.6 423.1 396.1 426.3 -4%
COLORADO 320.8 308.9 309.1 321.0 No change
Florida 542.4 487.1 540.5 461.9 -15%
Kansas 369.1 354.6 348.6 389.9 +6%
Kentucky 242.6 222.6 211.6 218.7 -10%
Michigan 490.3 454.5 427.3 415.5 -15%
Minnesota 236.0 230.9 229.1 242.6 +3%
OREGON 252.0 247.6 232.3 259.8 +3%
Texas 450.3 408.6 405.9 412.2 -8%
Utah 212.7 205.8 215.6 236.0 +11%
WASHINGTON 313.8 295.6 285.2 284.4 -10%

 (Adult-use cannabis states are in all caps.)

The correlation between a state’s cannabis laws and its violent crime rate is zero. Nada. Null set. It has, to borrow a phrase, ceased to be.

[embedded content]

Now let’s take a look at violence that is tied to cannabis. If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you may have caught reference to these recent incidents.

  • On Monday, a Frederick County, MD, police officer committed suicide hours after his arrest for possession of more than 10 grams of marijuana. Deputy Vincent Jones had given a friend 11 grams of cannabis. It’s unclear what led him to take his own life, but clearly the imminent prospect of losing his job, his career, his pride, and future employment did not improve his state of mind.
  • In Cheatham County, TN, three deputies were suspended earlier this week after a man sued them for repeatedly Tasering him while in custody. Jordan Norris, who was 18 at the time, had been arrested and charged with marijuana offenses. In the video of the incident (below), one deputy can be heard telling Norris, “I’ll keep doing that until I run out of batteries.” Norris reportedly had 40 Taser burns on his body.

    [embedded content]

  • Last month, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in the shooting death of Philando Castile. The shooting provoked worldwide outrage when Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, live-streamed it on Facebook. Yanez told investigators that the smell of cannabis made him fear for his life as he approached Reynolds’ car. If Castile “has the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana” in front of Reynolds’ young daughter, Yanez said, “what care does he give about me.”

    [embedded content]

  • Last week, a federal appeals court sided with the Harte family, whose suburban Kansas City home was violently raided by a drug task force in 2012, in a lawsuit against the local sheriff’s department. The sheriff’s drug team, brandishing AR-15s and a battering ram, came seeking marijuana in the wee hours of the morning. What they found was Bob and Addie Harte’s hydroponic tomatoes growing in the basement.

This is what the violence around marijuana looks like, Mr. Attorney General. It’s violence spawned by the antiquated, outdated, counterproductive, unjust and completely unnecessary prohibition of cannabis.

The money’s big, too. Civil asset forfeitures padded the budgets of American police departments to the tune of $5 billion in 2014. As the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham noted, that means there was more money stolen by cops, from civilians, than every burglar in every state stole from every victim that year.

This graph originally appeared in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog column.

Publish the task force report, Mr. Sessions. Show us your evidence. We’re happy to show you ours.

Trump Commission Calls for ‘State of Emergency’ Over Opioids

In an interim report release this afternoon, President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis called on the president to declare a state of emergency over the nation’s opioid addiction and overdose death crisis. “142 Americans are dying every day of a drug overdose,” said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, head of the commission. “To say we have a crisis here is an understatement.”

‘142 Americans are dying every day of a drug overdose.’

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

Christie said the opioid death rate was “the equivalent of the death toll on Sept. 11 every three weeks in America.”

Christie and his fellow commission members, including Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, and Harvard Medical School professor Bertha Madras, urged the federal government to rapidly increase the nation’s addiction treatment capacity by granting Medicaid waivers to existing treatment facilities.

There was no mention of cannabis in the commission’s interim report, which was released today. A full copy of that report can be found here.

RELATED STORY

How Cannabis Could Turn the Opioid Epidemic Around

More MAT for Opioid Addiction

The commission also advocated the expansion of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction. MAT involves the use of other FDA-approved drugs to bring an addicted opioid user off the powerful drug. But it can be difficult for many people, especially incarcerated people, to receive MAT because of legal restrictions.

“Multiple studies have shown that individuals receiving MAT during and after incarceration have lower mortality risk, remain in treatment longer, have fewer positive drug screens, and have lower rates of recidivism than other individuals … that do not receive MAT,” commission members wrote in the interim report.

Cannabis has received increasing attention as a component of MAT, but the report made it clear that today’s recommendation covered only FDA-approved medications.

The commission also urged the National Institutes of Health “to work with the pharmaceutical industry to develop more MAT options and non-opioid pain relievers.”

“The nation needs more treatments that are not addictive,” Christie said.

RELATED STORY

Is Cannabis Better for Chronic Pain Than Opioids?

Medical cannabis is one of the nation’s most well-known non-opioid pain relievers, but it was not mentioned in any way in today’s report. That’s not surprising. Four of the five presidentially appointed members of the commission are adamant cannabis prohibitionists:

  • Chris Christie is famous for the anti-marijuana rants made during his short-lived presidential campaign last year.
  • Gov. Charlie Baker opposed cannabis legalization in his home state of Massachusetts.
  • Rep. Patrick Kennedy is a co-founder of SAM, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a prohibitionist group formed with Kevin Sabet.
  • Professor Madras wrote a Washington Post op-ed last year that mocked the idea of cannabis as medicine and claimed—despite decades of evidence to the contrary—that “the scarcity of patients willing to enroll” in clinical trials was the main roadblock to cannabis research in America.
  • Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina is the moderate of the group; his only public note on cannabis has been to declare medical marijuana legalization as “something we need to go very slow on.”

The Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis is expected to release its full and final report later this year.

The Haymaker: Will Trump Fire Sessions By the Time You Finish This Headline?

‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s weekly column on cannabis politics and culture.

The headline exaggerates, of course. (Checking…checking…okay. Not fired yet.) But not by much.

If you’re a journalist covering Jeff Sessions these days, you’ve got to write fast and keep one eye on the Twitter feed. Those of us in the cannabis world keep tabs on Sessions because of his bizarre obsession with marijuana and the glee he takes in threatening a legalization crackdown. He also, of course, wields the power to bring real harm to many of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

The Trump-Sessions feud has turned into Lannister v. Stark at ten paces with tridents.

For the past eight months, more than 120,000 people whose jobs are tied to legal cannabis have worried about Sessions’ intent to destroy their livelihoods. “Sessions anxiety” has become a condition so common it merits its own classification in the DSM-V.

For the past few weeks, though, Sessions has swallowed spoonfuls of that same medicine. Trump, the boss to whom Sessions has shown nothing but love and loyalty, now blames his attorney general for the mess he’s in over Russia. (The logic, briefly: If Sessions hadn’t recused himself over L’Affaire Russe, Trump figures, the AG could fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller—or more likely have prevented Mueller’s appointment in the first place.) The hotter the Russian plot boils, the swifter Trump’s boot swings toward Sessions’ backside.

Nice shades, Mooch. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Earlier today things seemed to reach a breaking point. White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci acknowledged a “level of tension” between Trump and Sessions. This is saying something. The Mooch is the guy who declared that he and his fierce White House rival Reince Priebus were “like brothers.” So interpret the phrase “level of tension” to mean “Lannister v. Stark at ten paces with tridents.”

When radio host Hugh Hewitt said the “president wants [Sessions] gone,” Scaramucci said that “I know the president pretty well. And if there’s this level of tension, you’re probably right.”

It’s unclear whether the Mooch made that comment before or after donning his new Hot Topic shades and threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff.

‘Beleaguered Jeff’

Trump, for his part, poked Sessions in this delightful little tweet:

If you know anything about Trump, you know that “very weak” is one of the worst things he can say about a person. Besides “crooked.” And “Hillary.”

That followed yesterday’s “beleaguered AG” broadside:

Sessions, for his part, told friends he’s getting perturbed, in his courtly way, about the unfair treatment. “Sessions is totally pissed off about it,” one of the AG’s allies told The Daily Beast this afternoon. And he’s responding by hunkering down and letting it be known that he’s not going anywhere.

Conservative Schism

Meanwhile, hard-right conservatives are choosing sides. Ann Coulter urged President Trump to lance the boil:

At Trump Base Fortress One, aka Breitbart News, Sessions defenders came out strong for their man. “Sessions’s ouster would be a devastating blow to the prestige and prominence of the nationalist-populist underpinnings of the wider Trump movement,” Ian Mason wrote yesterday.

The Recess Appointment

What are Trump’s options?

The Smart Play of the Day™ has the President firing Sessions, then waiting until Congress skulks out of town to appoint an interim AG during the August recess. A promise to fire Mueller would be, assumedly, the price of the appointment.

University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck suggested this scenario earlier this morning:

Article II, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution empowers the President “to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” And as the Supreme Court concluded three years ago in the Noel Canning case, “the Recess of the Senate” can include just about any formal recess that lasts 10 or more days, whether it’s an “inter-session” or “intra-session” recess. (Noel Canning also holds that the vacancy at issue need not arise during the recess, although both of these holdings were over the nominal dissents of four of the more conservative Justices.)

Trump could fire Sessions, then appoint anybody (literally anybody) to serve as acting attorney general, without being confirmed, until the end of the next Senate session—January 3, 2019. “That person would have the same authority as a Senate-confirmed Attorney General,” wrote Vladeck, including the power to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Who would that acting AG be? Rudy Giuliani’s name has been floated; so have the ol’ teddy bears Newt Gingrich and Ted Cruz. Trump probably doesn’t trust Cruz enough to offer him the job. As he demonstrated most recently with his appointment of the Mooch, the President prefers employees who sacrifice their own beliefs and ambitions for his own. Nailing the hand gestures also helps.

Wild cards? Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who’s currently leading the Trump Administration’s voter fraud commission, could be in the running for the temporary job. So could Judge Jeanine Pirro, star of Fox News’ Justice with Judge Jeanine.

Seriously, Why Not Pirro?

How would one of those acting AG’s handle marijuana legalization? Initially, probably not much differently than Sessions. But over time, all the table-banging over legalization might get dialed back just a bit.

Judge Jeanine: Seriously.

Sessions has gone out of his way to express his contempt for drug reform. He went so far as to address the national convention of D.A.R.E. (BTW: Who knew D.A.R.E. still had a following big enough to hold a convention?)

Jeanine Pirro—yes, I’m taking her seriously—may be the best of them. True, she’s a strong supporter of the awful return to mandatory minimum sentences, but a few years ago she actually posted an open question about legalization to her viewers:

The issue of marijuana legalization sparks passionate arguments from both sides of the debate. Which side are you on?

Posted by Judge Jeanine Pirro on Tuesday, March 8, 2011

That’s a thin, tiny straw, desperately grasped. Hey, I’m working with what I’ve got here. Have you seen the other contenders? Kris Kobach hails from a state famous for two things: killing witches with flying houses, and hating Colorado legalization (I believe it’s on their license plates). Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani, those walking episodes of I Love The 90s, never met a drug sentence they didn’t want to double.

So at the moment (checking…checking…Sessions still not fired) my hopes and dreams ride on Judge Jeanine. We live in an era in which Kid Rock is considering a serious run for the Senate. Donald Trump was elected President. They just dug up Salvador Dali’s corpse to sample his DNA. So all in all, having an actual former judge, and a woman, as our acting attorney general might not be the most surreal thing imaginable. Or the worst.

The Haymaker: Living Large in Mooch’s ‘Zombie Apocalypse’

‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s weekly column on cannabis politics and culture.

If you caught new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci’s debut press conference today, you know a few things about the Mooch. He is:

  • Slick
  • Articulate
  • Confident
  • A sharp dresser
  • Reassuring in tone
  • Handy with the quip and joke
  • A big fan of President Trump
  • Fox News’ idea of a devilishly handsome gentleman
  • No longer available for that role as the third Shark in “West Side Story”

Say what you will about the man’s employment choices and his boss’s behavior: Mooch is a three-step upgrade for the shop that brought you Shrub-Hiding Spicey.

Not ten minutes into Scaramucci’s Briefing Room debut, though, the indefatigable Tom Angell resurfaced a tweet the Mooch sent out in October 2015:

Zombie Apocalypse!

Scaramucci hardly strikes me as a Sessions-level prohibitionist. Honestly, if I caught sight of him around a friendly summer bonfire I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull a Pax 3 out of his pocket and offer it around.

Back in the pre-2016 era, ye olde “Everyone in Colorado is Stoned!” canard was standard fare for a lot of people who wanted to appear smart. The chattering class worried about people showing up to work stoned and growing fat because of the munchies. Tina Brown famously fretted that legal cannabis would harm America’s IQ, our slender figure, and our ability to compete with the Chinese:

As one of Brown’s countrymen might say: Rubbish. Tosh. What rot.

One tweet does not make policy, and I don’t expect a tossed-off line from 2015 to crash our state-legal systems. But it’s worth considering the assumption underlying Mooch’s joke: How have cities fared in the aftermath of adult-use legalization?

RELATED STORY

Long Lines, $1.30 Grams Mark Uruguay’s Legal Cannabis Debut

The Milken Institute’s “2016 Best-Performing Cities” report may be the best evidence available. That study, produced by an institute founded by 80s junk bond king Michael Milken, looked at “where America’s jobs are created and sustained.”

Denver, Seattle, and Portland were the three largest cities in the states with legal cannabis in 2015 and 2016. All three appear as Top 20 best-performing large cities, according to Milken. Seattle clocked in at #10, and top-3 in high-tech GDP concentration. Denver wasn’t far behind at #13, with a top-10 performance in wage growth. Portland came in at 14, with a ribbon for high-tech GDP concentration (#2, behind only San Jose, home of Silicon Valley).

In fact, the four cities with the highest concentration of high-tech GDP were all in states with either adult-use or medical legality. One through four: San Jose, Portland, Seattle, Boulder.

Those are some really freakin’ smart zombies.

RELATED STORY

Podcast: What Are You Smoking?

What about city growth?

Let’s look at which towns are attracting the ambitious. Here Seattle is number one, with the fastest one-year growth rate among the nation’s 50 most populous cities between 2015 and 2016. Ask anyone who’s tried to buy a house in Seattle recently about the effect that’s having on the market.

Seattle’s premier employer used to be Boeing. Now it’s Amazon. Neither of these companies are hiring “stoners” or weed zombies. They are, however, hiring smart, educated people who may or may not consume cannabis once in a while.

Last year Amazon added 110,000 employees. That’s more people than live in the entire city of Pueblo, Colorado. The company now cuts paychecks to more than 341,000 people. Google is beefing up its offices in Seattle and in Boulder. Why? Because that’s where smart, ambitious young people want to live now. No, they’re not moving to those cities because cannabis is legal there. Legalization is part of the package: It goes hand-in-hand with the tolerance, progressive values, and belief in scientific evidence that defines the culture of those cities.

Welcome to the zombie apocalypse, Mooch. If I were you, I’d stop mocking it and start investing in it.

Leafly Interview: Dirty Trickster Roger Stone Talks Cannabis Legalization & Trump

Roger Stone, the notorious GOP political operative and longtime Donald Trump advisor, typically makes headlines for shadowy operations and unhinged outbursts. He’s been booted from Twitter for threatening journalists, once tweeting “DIE BITCH” at New York Times editor Jill Abramson. Racist, misogynist comments got him banned from CNN, MSNBC, and even Fox News. Currently, he’s a figure of interest in the many investigations into the Trump campaign’s Russian connections. But this week he’s in the news for an unexpected and strangely welcome move: Stone has formed an organization to pressure President Trump to honor his states’ rights pledge regarding cannabis legalization.

Jeff Sessions is ‘a Southern conservative hard-core right-wing drug warrior’ who has ‘probably seen the movie Reefer Madness a hundred times.’

Roger Stone, political operative

Stone filed paperwork earlier this week with the Internal Revenue Service to create the United States Cannabis Coalition, a nonprofit political organization with the same tax-exempt status as super-PACs that influence politicians and elections.

Stone is scheduled to detail the USCC’s plans in a keynote speech today at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition in New York.

He spoke with Leafly on Thursday about his legalization advocacy and his new group.

“We have the ability legally to lobby, but [USCC is] really grassroots mobilization to remind the president to keep his pledge,” Stone told Leafly in a telephone interview from New York. “It’s a question of reaching people through every medium, whether it’s the Internet, cable TV, broadcast television, radio, blast emails or social media.”

RELATED STORY

The Haymaker: Which Patients Will Sessions ‘Come After’ First?

For Trump, but Against Sessions

Stone said he’s troubled by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent request to Congress to grant him authority to prosecute medical cannabis patients in states in which the botanical drugs is legal — in direct opposition to a 2013 memo from President Barack Obama’s Attorney General upholding states’ rights. Stone called Sessions’ request “devastating.”

“The one good thing the Obama-Holder regime did was making a decision to stay the federal law regarding possession and distribution in the 29 states where the people have legalized marijuana,” Stone said. “Now Sessions threatens to reverse that.”

RELATED STORY

Congress Set to Revive CARERS Act

Stone called Sessions “a Southern conservative hard-core right-wing drug warrior who has probably never smelled marijuana in his life and has probably seen the movie ‘Reefer Madness’ a hundred times.”

“He appears to be reflecting his own views rather than the views of the president,” Stone said. “I wish he would crack down on Barack Obama’s illegal surveillance of Americans through the NSA and stop worrying about re-criminalizing marijuana.”

Stand Down on the ‘Crackdown’ Talk

Joining Stone on the United State Cannabis Coalition advisory board are Tyler Nixon, a Denver cannabis attorney who is a great nephew of Richard Nixon; former Minnesota governor and former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura; Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, a former judge; and attorney John Morgan, an attorney who spearheaded medicinal cannabis legalization in Florida.

Jesse Ventura: On Stone's advisory board.Jesse Ventura: On Stone’s advisory board.

Stone said he hopes to convince Trump to tell Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to stand down from “talking wistfully about a coming marijuana crackdown.”

“It’s important that the president realize that not only would that deny medical relief to millions of people but it would also deny states and counties hundreds of millions of dollars worth of revenue, revenue they’re already budgeting and counting on,” Stone said. “The state of Colorado has a surplus today because of their legalized cannabis industry. Take that away and they’re on the brink of bankruptcy, as are many states.”

Stone noted Trump could single-handedly remove cannabis from Schedule 1, a status, on par with heroin, that classifies cannabis as having no known medical value despite state laws to the contrary.

“Trump can do it at a stroke of the pen or direct the Secretary of Health to do it,” Stone said. “One man can make this decision.”

RELATED STORY

Jeff Sessions Asks Congress to End Medical Cannabis Protections

A Positive Move Would be Politically Popular

For a president with record-low approval ratings and looming impeachment threats, re-scheduling cannabis would be a boon for Trump and for America, Stone said.

Trump could remove cannabis from Schedule I ‘at the stroke of a pen.’ It would be ‘good policy, and good politics.’

Stone

“I think it would not only be good public policy,” Stone said, “I think it would be good politics.”

Stone called America’s 45-year-old War on Drugs “an expensive, ignominious, racist failure.”

“I think it would be fair to say drug use is a public-health issue rather than a criminal issue,” said Stone, whose political mentor, Richard Nixon, launched the War on Drugs during his first term in office. “I’m not talking about drug kingpins who sell heroin to children. I’m talking about the non-violent act of small amounts of drugs for personal use should not send a person to prison for 15 years.”

Stone, who remained close to Nixon after the disgraced president resigned from office midway into his second term, said his former mentor eventually admitted the War on Drugs was wrong.

“Only long after his presidency did he acknowledge that the War on Drugs had probably been a mistake,” Stone said. “But he only acknowledge that when I showed him the statistics.”

Stone said his coalition will also call for the U.S. to ease banking restrictions and to fund cannabis research.

“These kind of studies have been done in Israel with adequate funding and they’re really quite promising,” Stone said. “But we should have our own research.”

Introducing ‘The Haymaker,’ Leafly’s New Politics & Culture Column. This Week: Jeff Sessions Out?

Editor’s Note: This week marks the debut of The Haymaker, Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s weekly column on cannabis politics, culture, law and controversy. 

My phone was buzzing with breaking news alerts here at Leafly World Headquarters yesterday. “Sessions Offered to Quit During Exchange With Trump” said CNN. “Sessions Offered in Recent Months to Resign,” teased the Washington Post.

When the king views disagreement as betrayal, everyone is doomed to eventually betray the king. Even Jeff Sessions.

After nearly six months, we here in the Leafly newsroom have gradually acclimated to Tropical Storm Trump. We don’t shock easy. But this latest turn in the American telenovela elicited a gasp.

When the king views common disagreement as personal betrayal, everyone is doomed to eventually betray the king. Even, apparently, Jeff Sessions—the first senator to endorse Trump, and one of his most loyal surrogates.

This ongoing intrigue would be irrelevant to our world if not for one fact: Attorney General Jeff Sessions exercises inordinate power over the legal cannabis industry. He’s been consistent in his public condemnation of all forms of legalization, even medical marijuana. And he’s signaled that he’s prepared to act on those beliefs.

RELATED STORY

How Many of These DEA ‘Cannabis Slang’ Terms Do You Know?

Recusal = Betrayal

First, the backstory: In March, the attorney general recused himself from the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In any other administration, this would have been a accepted as a prudent move. Sessions is a person of interest in the FBI’s investigation into the matter, having held meetings with the Russian ambassador that he neglected to disclose to the Senate during his confirmation process. The FBI is an agency of the Department of Justice, which is run by Jeff Sessions. A recusal was the only right and decent move here. Sessions, to his credit, made it.

The palace intrigue matters because Sessions holds inordinate power over the cannabis industry.

But Trump apparently took that recusal as a personal betrayal. “The president’s anger has lingered for months,” according to White House sources contacted by the Washington Post.  Sessions’ recusal, in Trump’s eyes, was the move that opened the door for the appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller, who is now overseeing the DOJ’s Russia investigation.

It’s become increasingly apparent that President Trump believes the nation’s top law enforcement officials should protect him by subverting ongoing federal investigations. When they don’t, he reads it as personal betrayal. That’s why he fired former FBI Director James Comey. That’s why he’s steaming mad at one of his most loyal lieutenants, Jeff Sessions.

RELATED STORY

5 Reasons Why Jeff Sessions’ Drug War Reboot Will Fail

‘You’re fired.’ Then What?

Let’s say Sessions gets the boot. It’s not hard to imagine Comey’s long-awaited testimony, scheduled to begin tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. Eastern, throwing President Trump into a tantrum that finds relief only in the utterance of those two most Trumpian words: You’re fired.

And if that happens…

America, meet Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Meet McDreamy: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)Meet McDreamy: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Let’s play this out. If Trump were to fire Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein would immediately step in as acting AG.

He would likely remain Acting Attorney General Rosenstein for the remainder of Trump’s term.

The odds of Trump appointing a new attorney general, and that AG nominee surviving the confirmation process, are slim. I believe the technical Vegas term is “heavy dog.”

Personal loyalty is clearly Trump’s main job requirement. The number of candidates who possess both credentials for the job and the loyalty card can probably be counted on one hand. Let’s see… Rudy Giuliani. That’s one. Newt Gingrich makes two. Sen. Bob Corker? He and Gingrich aren’t actually lawyers, but that’s not a legal disqualifier. Kris Kobach? Trump is not in the business of partnering with hicks from Kansas. Chris Christie? In polite company Trump is said to believe that Christie does not “look the part,” which is code for saying that the president considers him a fat loser.

Can’t Fill the Posts, or Won’t

The White House has a hard enough time finding candidates to fill the hundreds of jobs that require Congressional confirmation. Of 559 key positions requiring Senate confirmation, Trump has offered no nominee for 441. Not filling positions has been floated as a proactive strategy to shrink the federal bureaucracy, part of Steve Bannon’s plan to “deconstruct the administrative state.” If so, well, bang-up job. But at the same time…

Rosenstein Could Calm the Ship

One of the few officials who has managed to keep his reputation somewhat intact is our man Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein was the one with the cojones to appoint Robert Mueller as the DOJ’s special counsel leading the Russia investigation. Rosenstein reportedly threatened to resign when Trump used him as cover for the James Comey firing. (At the same time: Rosenstein did write the mind-boggling memo that justified Comey’s firing based on Comey’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails.)

If Sessions departs, Rosenstein could solve a lot of problems for Trump simply by running the Justice Department as its Acting Attorney General for the rest of the President’s term. If Trump bumped him up to the head job—which is doubtful, given Trump’s distrust of his personal loyalty—Rosenstein is one of the few who has enough support in the Senate to survive confirmation. In 2005, President George W. Bush appointed Rosenstein as US attorney in Maryland. He proved to be so effective and nonpartisan that President Obama chose to keep him.

All of which points to a likely conclusion: If Rosenstein takes over as acting AG, don’t expect a splashy big-name boss to fill Jeff Sessions’ shoes. It’ll be Rosenstein’s DOJ to run.

RELATED STORY

Brooklyn DA Challenges Sessions, Says Decriminalization Works

Where’s He Stand on Cannabis?

As head of the Justice Department, Rosenstein would likely tone down the rhetoric on cannabis. Sessions considers marijuana legalization a personal affront to his most deeply held values. Rosenstein shows no such inclination.

The war on drugs just isn’t Rod Rosenstein’s jam.

When he was Maryland’s chief federal prosecutor, Rosenstein directed his office to go after large-scale criminal drug operations. “We have pretty clear guidance from the attorney general to continue to pursue cases involving drug distribution in violation of state law,” he told the Baltimore Sun in late 2013.

The key phrase there is “in violation of state law.” When Maryland’s state legislature passed medical marijuana legalization in 2014, Rosenstein did not stand in the way of progress on the issue. In fact, trying to find any sort of past statement from Rosenstein on cannabis legalization leads to a teeth-gnashing dive into the deeper pools of Google. Prohibition and the war on drugs just aren’t Rosenstein’s jam.

Would that attitude continue if he held the reins of the Justice Department? We may soon be fortunate enough to find out.