The Heroes and Villains of the Brewing Battle for Legal Marijuana

Attorney General Jeff Sessions talks with reporters

Attorney General Jeff Sessions talks with reporters. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

One man’s hero is another man’s villain, or so the saying goes. Naturally, the roles these heroes and villains take depends on perspective. When it comes to legal marijuana, this holds true. If you think legal pot is a sign of moral decay, you probably look to certain figures, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as champions of the people. If you think it’s high time to banish prohibition, Sessions has more of a Sauron-type vibe.

Sessions, a noted anti-marijuana crusader, is one of many characters in the saga of marijuana legalization. There are now several states — including entire regions, such as the West Coast — which have voted in legal marijuana laws. Public sentiment has turned in favor of legalization. But these state laws are at odds with federal law.

And that’s why there’s trouble brewing. Although the Obama administration was satisfied with letting the states figure out how to deal with legal pot, the Trump administration might take a different approach. Trump has appointed many anti-drug warriors to high-ranking positions, and it’s setting us up for a legal showdown between the states and the federal government.

Legal marijuana: The heroes and villains

Thus, the stage is set. The players are in costume, and the drama is set to unfold. There will be twists and turns. But there’s one important thing to keep in mind: This drama will have real consequences. People could lose their jobs, investments, businesses, and livelihoods. The key figures at the heart of the legal marijuana battle — those heroes and villains — aren’t merely duking it out for our entertainment.

We’ll take a look at the good and bad characters from the perspective of a marijuana-legalization supporter, fleshing out our heroes and villains. Here are some of those key figures who will play big roles in the upcoming fight.

Hero: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is a key figure in our heroes and villains series. | David Ryder/Getty Images

Jay Inslee is the governor of Washington, one of the first two states to legalize marijuana back in 2012. Inslee has been a steadfast defender of his state’s law and was one of four governors to sign and send a letter to Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, requesting the federal government kindly mind its own business. He also publicly stated he will fight any attempts at a federal crackdown by the Trump administration.

“We will be diligent in protecting the public’s will and largely successful effort to have an integrated, consumer-friendly market that, instead of putting money into criminal’s pockets, it helps our schools and drug education,” Inslee said, according to report from MyNorthwest.com.

Hero: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, defender of legal marijuana in his state

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is a defender of legal marijuana in his state. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

Along with Washington, Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012. And so far, so good — like in Washington. The state’s governor, John Hickenlooper, was one of the four governors (along with Inslee) to send a letter to Sessions and Mnuchin, requesting their states be left alone. Although he has voiced some concern about legalization in the past, Hickenlooper has since said he’d stand fast against pushback from the federal government.

Hero: Alaska Gov. Bill Walker

Alaska Governor Bill Walker

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker | Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The governor of Alaska, Bill Walker, is another of the four governors to send Sessions and Mnuchin the previously mentioned letter. Walker hasn’t been as vocal or outspoken as Hickenlooper or Inslee. But he has nonetheless drawn a line in the sand to protect his state’s legalization laws.

“Gov. Walker signed the letter because Alaska voters passed the initiative to legalize recreational use of marijuana. He is upholding the will of the people,” Walker’s Press Secretary Katie Marquette told Alaska NBC affiliate KTUU.

Hero: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown

Oregon Governor Kate Brown

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown | Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

The final of the four governors to send the letter, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is also standing up for marijuana rights in her state. Oregon’s cannabis industry has been on the fast track since voters opted to legalize in 2014. Since then, Brown and others have been working to polish it and help the industry flourish. Like the other governors, Brown’s state stands to lose a lot if a federal crackdown is initiated by key players in Washington, D.C.

Hero: Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks at a press conference

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks at a press conference. | Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Bob Ferguson, Washington state’s attorney general, is making a name for himself. Ferguson took the point in attacking the Trump administration’s travel ban and has also come out swinging in regard to any federal crackdowns on cannabis. “I will resist any efforts by the Trump administration to undermine the will of the voters in Washington state,” Ferguson told The Seattle Times.

There are many others we could add to our list of “heroes,” but so far, these are the major figures who’ve waded into the fight. As for whom they’re up against? The biggest baddie of them all is presiding over the Department of Justice.

Villain: Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions | Alex Wong/Getty Images

There’s a lot that can be said about Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We’ll leave it at this: He’s no fan of marijuana. And if he had things his way, we’d probably see a swift, brutal clampdown on legal marijuana using federal force. But many Americans, including Republicans, aren’t on board. We don’t know yet what Sessions plans to do, but he’s hinted at the possibility of going hard at the states, using the powers of the federal government at his disposal.

Villain: Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price

HHS Secretary Tom Price

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Another Trump Cabinet pick, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is in a position that yields a lot of influence on cannabis policy. The Georgia Republican has voted against medical and recreational marijuana protections for the states. And in his new role, he could have an impact on cannabis availability across the country by penalizing doctors or sellers who work with cannabis-affiliated entities.

Villain: Vice President Mike Pence

Mike Pence

Vice President Mike Pence | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Although he has been fairly quiet since assuming office, Vice President Mike Pence is another hard-line conservative who isn’t friendly to the cannabis community. As governor of Indiana, Pence refused to lower punishments for marijuana possession and has expressed his belief that marijuana is a dangerous gateway drug. Indiana still has some of the nation’s harshest penalties for drug possession. And given Pence’s lofty position, he could wield significant influence in the coming legalization battle.

Villain: Big Pharma

medicinal tablets with blue container

Medicine | iStock.com/LuCaAr

What’s a drama without a giant, faceless entity that is seemingly impossible to fight? On our stage, that role belongs to Big Pharma. Marijuana presents a real and tangible threat to the pharmaceutical industry. As such, the industry has an interest in keeping cannabis illegal. In fact, Big Pharma has already helped defeat legalization in one state. It poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign that helped defeat Arizona’s 2016 legalization initiative. Expect that type of behavior to ramp up in coming years.

Wildcard: President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions attend a panel discussion on an opioid and drug abuse

President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions attend a panel discussion on an opioid and drug abuse. | Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images

There’s always a wildcard.

President Donald Trump has sent plenty of mixed signals regarding marijuana. During the campaign, he promised to leave it to the states. But his appointments of guys, such as Jeff Sessions and Tom Price, point another direction. At this stage, we really don’t have a good idea of how Trump wants to handle the legal pot dilemma. There are a number of ways things could ultimately turn out. Right now, Trump is the biggest question mark on the board.

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