Will Marijuana Legalization Survive a Trump Presidency?

Trump's impending presidency has left marijuana advocates with fingers crossed on one hand, with the other ready to flush the toilet at a moment’s notice.

In the wake of the election results numerous ballot measures went mostly unnoticed as an onslaught of dismay and joy erupted across the nation. Here in California we decided to not abolish the death penalty (but to reform the system), hike taxes on tobacco products, ban single-use plastic and paper bags, and quadruple the number of Americans that have access to marijuana.


That last statistic is not owed to California alone, as Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada joined in for recreational usage, while citizens in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota legalized medical marijuana. Only Arizona failed to pass legislation this time around. As predicted, states in this longstanding fight for reform are falling like dominoes. Will a Trump-led federal government intervene?

Since California first legalized medical marijuana in 1996 the feds have essentially turned a blind eye to what states are doing. While there have been federal raids on grow houses, farms, and businesses, for the most part public will is winning. Will that change when anti-marijuana crusaders like Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani are awarded cabinet positions? Or by a vice president who only three years ago refused to lower penalties for possession in Indiana?

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I substance, meaning it has no medical value. As long as this status remains marijuana reform advocates will have a hard time pegging down the federal government’s position—and businesses will always be vulnerable to sudden prosecution. This conundrum is further muddied by the fact that states are collecting tremendous tax revenues from the industry while federal restrictions do not allow marijuana companies to use banks.

One of the perceived dangers of marijuana legalization is crime, which actually increases when companies have to operate as cash-only businesses. At the moment the only industry wholly profiting is security. John Hudak writes:

A cash-only system creates a seriously risky business environment and offers bad actors opportunities for money laundering. Those risks are held in place by a government that refuses to implement a policy fix.

Not only is it illegal for banks to do business with marijuana companies, Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code states that anyone earning income from Schedule 1 or II substances is not entitled to tax deductions even as they are required to file annual returns. Hudak states that some young businesses are experiencing tax burdens that exceed 100 percent of revenue, which is obviously unsustainable.

Just as marijuana reform has taken place under the radar of federal law, another emerging trend is offering a potential solution: bitcoin. Trees, a San Francisco bitcoin startup, projects that the marijuana industry will be worth $30 billion in just three years. It’s obscene to speculate that mainstream banks would not want a part of that, but given the bipolar relationship the federal government has created with states more innovative measures are proving necessary.

Bitcoin is generally regarded as a risky investment, though as more users worldwide trade in it the value stabilizes. The currency has seen less fluctuation each year thanks to businesses and individuals willing to take a chance. Bitcoin companies see potential in the rapidly growing marijuana industry. Oakland “cannabis industry accelerator” Gateway offers startups four-month mentoring sessions and upfront investment for six percent equity, while bitcoin debit cards and ATMs are gaining in popularity despite high fees. At this uncertain time alternative currencies are strangely providing the most stability.

In 2015 Trump said at a Nevada rally that states should have the final say in marijuana reform. He later told Bill O’Reilly that he “100 percent” supports medical marijuana while hedging on the question of recreational use due to “problems.” Christie has adamantly expressed his disdain for marijuana yet did not turn back New Jersey’s medical laws; in fact, he recently signed an assembly bill expanding PTSD patients’ rights.

Take nothing for granted with this administration. The 65 million Americans who have state-sanctioned access to marijuana face a difficult battle with politicians known to hold personal grudges: Trump and journalists; Christie and Bridgegate. Last week’s celebration is tenuous, as has been the entire process of marijuana reform in America. For now we’ll keep fingers crossed on one hand with the other ready to flush the toilet at a moment’s notice.

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Derek Beres is working on his new book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health (Carrel/Skyhorse, Spring 2017). He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.