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President Trump Commits to Protect Colorado’s Legal Marijuana Industry

On Friday, April 13th, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) announced that President Trump assured him that the Department of Justice’s decision to rescind the Obama-era guidance on marijuana enforcement would not affect Colorado’s legal marijuana industry. President Trump also promised Senator Gardner that he would support a federal legislative fix that takes into account state decisions to legalize marijuana. In turn, the senator lifted holds on all Department of Justice nominees, ending an intra-GOP standoff over the Department’s cannabis policy.

In January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded guidance that outlined eight marijuana enforcement priorities, heightening the possibility of a federal crackdown in states that legalized recreational and medical cannabis. Pro-legalization advocates feared that Sessions’ announcement granted federal prosecutors broader discretion to pursue criminal charges against marijuana businesses operating legally under state law in states like Colorado, Washington, California and elsewhere. Sen. Gardner immediately responded that he would block all DOJ nominations over the new policy. (more…)




President’s FY 2019 Budget Would Give TTB Criminal Authority over Alcohol

Earlier this week the Trump Administration presented its Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Proposal. While many portions of a president’s proposed budget do not get enacted, such proposals provide insight into the thinking of the administration.

With respect to the alcohol beverage industry, the budget proposal would transfer to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau the remaining (criminal) authority the old Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) has over alcohol beverages, stating:

ATF would transfer the entirety of its alcohol and tobacco regulatory and enforcement responsibilities to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in the Department of the Treasury. This transfer would enable the ATF to hone its focus on activities that protect U.S. communities from violent criminals and criminal organizations, while consolidating duplicative alcohol and tobacco enforcement mechanisms within the TTB.

We suspect TTB would welcome an expansion of its authority to include criminal matters involving alcohol (e.g., diversion a/k/a “bootlegging”).




Cannabis Chaos: Justice Department Revokes Obama-Era Guidance on Marijuana Enforcement

Today, Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions announced, in a memorandum to all US Attorneys, the immediate revocation of five Obama Administration policies on federal marijuana enforcement, including Guidance Regarding the Ogden Memo in Jurisdictions Seeking to Authorize Marijuana for Medical Use, Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement and Guidance Regarding Marijuana Related Financial Crimes. These three Obama-era guidance documents were drafted by then Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole in response to state legalization initiatives. (more…)




Legal, Political and Practical Challenges in Regulating Recreational Marijuana

On March 30, eight bills were introduced by senior members of Congress from both parties to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. The bills were referred to at least five House Committees, as they address federal criminal law, taxation, banking, transportation, immigration, veterans’ affairs, access to federal benefits and other issues. The legislative activity follows establishment of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus in February. Leaders of the new caucus represent four of the eight states where voters have approved recreational use of marijuana by adults.

In the initial press conference held by Cannabis Caucus members and in statements explaining the new legislation, House and Senate members made frequent reference to laws regulating alcohol beverages. Bills introduced earlier in the current session of Congress also call for state-by-state regulation using language similar to the Section 2 of the Twenty-first Amendment, which authorized each state to regulate the delivery and use of “intoxicating liquors” within its borders.

The failure of national Prohibition of alcohol beverages is often cited as a rationale to legalize recreational marijuana use. Before proceeding toward wider legalization, policymakers should gain a deeper understanding of the history of Prohibition and the regulatory scheme that emerged after repeal. Government regulation is necessary in a complex and pluralistic society of 320 million, but effective marijuana regulation is a tall order.

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Trump Administration Indicates Plans to Increase Enforcement of Recreational Marijuana Laws

To follow up on our prediction last month that the Trump Administration may take a more aggressive stance toward the legalization of marijuana, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated during the February 23 daily briefing that he anticipates greater federal enforcement of marijuana laws.  Spicer emphasized the distinction between medical marijuana (the legalization of which President Trump does not oppose) and recreational marijuana.  In discussing the latter, Spicer invoked the country’s opioid addiction crisis, suggesting a link between recreational marijuana use and such other drugs.

Spicer hinted that the Justice Department’s enforcement of federal drug laws would extend to the nine jurisdictions that have legalized recreational marijuana, potentially putting at risk the schemes many of these states have created–or are in the process of creating–to regulate marijuana.  As of today, the recreational use of marijuana is legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.  (Note:  Congress has blocked the DC government from using funds to actually implement a system to regulate recreational marijuana, so although technically legal, there is currently no “market” for recreational marijuana in DC.)

If President Trump’s Justice Department does begin to pursue more active enforcement of marijuana laws in states that have legalized marijuana, it may meet pushback from Congress.  Just last week, four congressmen announced the formation of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus (the Caucus), a bipartisan organization seeking to change the federal government’s attitude toward legalized marijuana and, notably, to leave the legalization question to the states.  In support of this mission, earlier this month Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a member of the Caucus, introduced a bill (HR 975) in the House that would prevent federal enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act (the Act) in states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Likely by design, the bill’s introduction occurred just a day before the confirmation of Jeff Sessions, a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, as Attorney General.  The bill would add a new section to the Act expressly stating that the Act’s provisions concerning marijuana do not apply to persons acting in compliance with state law regarding the possession or sale of marijuana.  The bill, titled the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017,” has been referred to the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce Committees.

Of course, whether the bill will gain enough support to pass in Congress and survive a potential Trump veto remains to be seen.  Nevertheless, the timing of the bill’s introduction, the bipartisan support it has garnered to date (half of its current cosponsors are Republicans), and the announcement of the Caucus indicate a growing tension between Congress–including some members of President Trump’s own party–and the Administration with respect to the enforcement of federal marijuana laws.




President Trump Issues Executive Order Aimed at Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs

On January 30, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order No. 13771, entitled “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.” A link to Executive Oder 13771 appears here.  The Order provides:

  1. For Fiscal Year 2017 (which ends September 30, 2017):
    1. For each new “regulation” published for notice and comment “or otherwise promulgated,” the agency in question must “identify” two existing regulations to be repealed. Notably, the Order does not require the repeal to be concurrent with the publication or promulgation of the new regulation.
    2. For Fiscal Year 2017, each agency must ensure that the total incremental costs of all new and repealed regulations shall not exceed zero, unless otherwise required by law or as consistent with the advice of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Order does not specify whether the costs in question represent costs to the agency, costs to the government or total societal costs. It also does not provide any guidance on how to calculate such costs.
    3. To the extent permitted by law, the costs of any new regulations shall be offset by the elimination of costs associated with at least two existing regulations. Once again, the Order provides no guidance on what constitute costs of a regulation or how to calculate such costs.
    4. The OMB is directed to provide agencies with guidance on how to implement the Order.
  2. Beginning with Fiscal Year 2018 (which begins October 1, 2017):
    1. The semi-annual Unified Regulatory Agenda for each agency must: (i) identify for each new regulation “that increases incremental cost,” two offsetting regulations; and (ii) provide an approximation of the total costs or savings for each new and repealed regulation.
    2. Each regulation approved by the OMB shall be included in the Unified Regulatory Agenda.
    3. Unless otherwise required by law, agencies may not issue new regulations that were not listed in the most recent Unified Regulatory Agenda.
    4. During the budgeting process, the OMB shall notify agencies of the total costs per agency that will be allowed in issuing and repealing new regulations for the upcoming fiscal year.
    5. The OMB shall provide agencies with guidance on implementing the Order’s requirements.

Executive Oder 13771 applies to each “executive department or agency,” but leaves a number of government regulatory functions outside of its scope. These include agencies involved in military, national security, and foreign affairs functions, as well as any government organization arising from the Legislative or Judicial branches. Nevertheless, the Order applies to a vast swath of the federal bureaucracy.

On its face, Executive Order 13771 could have a significant impact on the pace of federal rulemaking during the Trump Administration. The “two-for-one” requirement, in particular, appears to be a blunt instrument aimed at shrinking the Code of Federal Regulations. Moreover, the explicit requirement for cost estimates and “zero” total costs flowing from the rulemaking process plainly seeks to halt the growth and costs of the federal administrative state.

But the jury remains out on the practical impact of Executive Order 13771. Longstanding observers of the federal bureaucracy will, no [...]

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The Trump Administration’s View on Marijuana: Reading the (Tea) Leaves

The incoming Trump Administration may usher in a more hostile climate to state efforts to legalize the sale and distribution of marijuana and products that contain the drug. The Obama Administration opposed the federal legalization of marijuana, but its enforcement approach, which focused on persons and entities whose conduct interferes with eight drug enforcement priorities, is outlined in a memorandum. This guidance does not have the force and effect of law, which means that the incoming Administration may replace it with a new guidance addressing prosecutorial discretion in marijuana cases. Below we examine the positions taken by President-elect Trump and his nominee for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions, on (1) medical and recreational marijuana, (2) states’ rights, (3) attitudes toward marijuana use, and (4) enforcement of federal drug laws.

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