Will drug policy reform be Trumped? We asked the reform community to chime in.

By Psymposia|December 19, 2016

It’s hard to imagine Trump & Sessions stuffing the toothpaste back in the tube, but remember drug prohibition is a lucrative business.

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Before the support beams of the so-called mythical Blue Wall gave way and came crashing down on Clinton’s head with the progressive weight of Dorothy’s house, many were feeling pretty optimistic and possibly a little too smug about the future of drug policy reform and psychedelic research. And rightfully so; marijuana is now “legal” in 8 states and Washington DC; MAPS, NYU, and Johns Hopkins are making progress in research with MDMA and psilocybin; and Obama has now pardoned over 1,000 non-violent drug “offenders.”

Perhaps some of that optimism or smugness, take your pick, is grounded in hope or faith, since much of Trump’s rhetoric is centered around states’ rights. But perhaps it’s grounded in the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, or belief, because the map is not the territory, and it’s doubtful that many in the Trump administration have their ethical or compassion-compasses handy.

We’ll admit, it’s hard to imagine a 70-year-old Jeff Sessions rallying the inquisition to unenthusiastically stuff all the toothpaste back in the tube, because that would cause too much political friction, but remember drug prohibition is a lucrative business. Actually, what’s harder to imagine is Donald Trump as the successor to Barack Obama as the next POTUS, and that’s about to happen.

So as the swamp is being drained and refilled with stagnant petroleum-water from the other swamp, we asked people in the psychedelic research and drug policy reform communities to chime in with their thoughts about how a Trump presidency may impact reform in years to come.

What are your general thoughts and initial feelings? How might your work be affected? What are your major concerns and what warning signs people should look out for? What action and role should people take? Here’s what they said:


Jag Davies | Drug Policy Alliance

It’s a cognitively dissonant moment for those of us who care about ending the drug war, as we simultaneously reflect on a wide range of unprecedented victories while facing the prospect of the federal government undoing decades of painstaking progress.

There’s little doubt our incoming commander-in-chief is primed to launch a new war on drugs that could be worse than anything we’ve seen before. He has called for doubling down on draconian drug laws, expanding private prisons, and nationalizing “stop and frisk” policing.

His explicit appeals to the most racist, xenophobic elements of American society are foreboding given the drug war’s racist, xenophobic origins and the ongoing, disproportionate targeting, arrest, conviction and incarceration of people of color for drug law violations. In perhaps the most chilling sign yet, the president-elect recently expressed support for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign of mass murder of poor people suspected of using or selling drugs. (And if you think what’s happening in the Philippines can’t in the U.S., it’s time for a wake-up call.)

Many people initially hoped Trump might at least make good on his campaign promise to let marijuana legalization play out at the state level – but that appears unlikely given his choice for attorney general is Jeff Sessions, a drug war extremist with a career-long history of racist comments and actions. (Please ask your Senator to oppose Sessions’ nomination here.)

This is the time when we find out what we’re really made of. This new administration is not just an attack on sensible drug policies but an attack on civil and human rights, bent on unleashing vast destruction in historically oppressed communities that have long borne the brunt of the drug war. It’s more essential than ever that we venture past our growing edges, join together with other movements, and walk the walk when it comes to social integrity and racial justice.

Natalie Ginsberg and Ismail Ali | MAPS

Donald Trump responded powerfully to people’s fears and anxieties and validated many of them. Psychedelic healing works by allowing people to examine, re-process, and release their fear. Without fear driving behavior, people can instead act from a place of love and compassion. This is the goal of healing. Healing, both individually and as a community, is more important than ever in the wake of this divisive election cycle.

People need healing regardless of which political party is in power, which is why MAPS works to develop medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and cannabis. This election, however, has brought a new awareness to the widespread suffering and trauma already rampant in the United States, so we are hopeful people will be more open to effective, innovative treatments like psychedelic psychotherapy, especially when everything else has failed.

The new Trump administration does not affect our mission: everyone deserves access to healing, and healing is necessary to achieve a truly just society. We still believe that medical and scientific research should not be restricted for Schedule I substances. Fortunately, the FDA was created to be insulated from political pressure, so we believe it will continue its work placing science before politics, and fairly reviewing our research.

Additionally, the Trump administration consistently states its commitment to veterans, and veterans stand to benefit greatly from the FDA approval of MDMA psychotherapy, as well as clinical studies evaluating cannabis as treatment for PTSD in veterans. There are almost one million veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). MAPS has gathered promising evidence from our Phase 2 studies indicating that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy helps veterans enrolled in our study move beyond their chronic PTSD. MAPS has also received a $2.15 million grant from the state of Colorado for our study of cannabis as treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD, which we will begin in January of 2017. Though the DEA has committed to ending the government monopoly on cannabis for research, it has yet to do so, so we will continue to press this new administration to grant growing licenses to non-government cultivators, so that there will be cannabis eligible for FDA approval and future prescription sale.

We are concerned by Donald Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, General John Kelly as head of Homeland Security, and Tom Price as head of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the FDA, as they all have strong anti-cannabis track records and have been active supporters of the War on Drugs. We would urge them to follow the science, and their constituents, in recognizing that the states have the right to decide for themselves how to regulate the plant, and cannabis need not be subject any longer to counterproductive drug control schemes.

We are also gravely concerned by Donald Trump’s supportive comments regarding Philippine President Duterte’s campaign of mass execution of people suspected of using or dealing drugs. Extrajudicial death squads are a brutal, extreme symptom of the already brutal and extreme War on Drugs, which not only fails to eliminate drugs, but in practice is a war on science, and a war on people. We need not devolve into flagrant violations of human rights before acknowledging that prohibition is a failed system and that the United States must instead pursue drug policies grounded in public health and harm reduction.

Young people—and people of all ages—have a large role to play in expanding drug policy reform and psychedelic research. Those who feel safe enough should speak out honestly about their experiences with psychedelics to support efforts to de-stigmatize substances and personalize research. Everyone can help educate and grow consciousness, and everyone can be compassionate toward others in the process of growing their consciousness and healing.

Start with your family, friends, or colleagues, and work out. Support one another. Love one another.

Adam Eidinger | DCMJ.org

Since the election of Donald Trump, he has shown a shocking level of revision to his campaign positions. Oft cited pledges to put Hillary Clinton in prison or to not work with generals he said he knew, more than cast doubt that anything coming out Trump’s mouth can’t be revised on a whim.

Trump has never been a friend to drug reform, but he did say on the record multiple times late in the campaign it’s OK to have a state-by-state policy for marijuana laws. Those positive statements, in light of his nomination of notorious drug warrior Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general, have dashed any hope that Trump would allow reforms to go forward.

Senator Sessions as recently as April said in judiciary hearing we need to bring back the good ole days of the Just Say No campaign of Nancy Reagan. He spoke about imaginary dangers of marijuana “destroying families,” so my initial feeling is one of terror followed by a fight or flee reflex. We are in flight mode for now and that’s why DCMJ.org has begun a #SmokeSessions campaign.

My focus is on pushing more drug policy reforms regardless of who is in office. Many of the gains we made through voter initiatives are under threat by the Trump administration and GOP Congress until we learn otherwise. I expect Washington, D.C.’s home grow and give law for cannabis to be assaulted in the early days of the administration if we are to take Senator Sessions by his word. I fear drug policy reforms needed across the board will regress further with more Americans getting locked up. Over 5 million went to jail for marijuana during the Obama years; imagine how much worse that could get.

The biggest warning sign we are going to get is how little outrage there is about Trump’s appointments. People need to start demanding that the Senate drug reform leaders speak out ASAP about the kind of Department of Justice they want to see. People need to freak out on their senators to vote no.

Young people need to not be silent and show NEW leadership. We need a younger generation of leaders fighting for rational drug laws….A world where drugs are treated as a public health issue is within reach, but we have to fight for it and never forget the huge challenge Trump poses to the gains we’ve made.

Diane Fornbacher | Ladybud

I am feeling very much the way my colleagues and fellow progressives are feeling – I am filled perpetually with a sense of hope given that everything in life is cyclical, but I admit to feeling quite anxious about the new president and administration.

It is my professional opinion that Donald Trump is not a person imbued with critical thinking skills and certainly has not been a champion of civil liberties. Although I do believe he could benefit from a journey or 100 with entheogens, I don’t foresee that in his near future or at all. He does not seem any bit convinced that he would need another kind of viewpoint, as narcissists don’t leave themselves much open to experiences of growth or awareness of a larger spectrum of understanding.

Pence has a shoddy record when it comes to LGBT rights and understanding drug policy reform as it pertains to knowing the difference between use, medicinal requirement, spiritual use, and addiction. He has consistently received low grades from organizations like NORML for being anti-legalization and not being open to much reform in larger spectrums like prison reform, compassionate services, and harm reduction practices.

All that being said, I am still imbued with a sense of hope. I believe that drug policy reform is a change that has been coming and has been pushing forward during the Obama administration. Certainly there is much that I wish would’ve been done during Obama’s terms, but as far as what we are potentially facing with Trump, Barack was a revelation.

At this juncture, I believe that activists of all ages can continue reform by acting locally and strengthening communities. By volunteering with various poverty organizations and raising funds for more research with regard to psychedelics and cannabis, I believe we can continue moving forward. I know I will continue my work.

Mitchell Gomez | DanceSafe

Going into the general election, I wasn’t particularly elated with either party’s nominee. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have a long history of being pro drug war, and I suspect that no matter who had won the election, the movement would have been in for a long ride. President Elect Trump has publicly spoken many times about allowing states to make their own decisions about marijuana laws, which is great, but his appointment of Jeff Sessions is deeply concerning to me personally. Sessions is perhaps the most vocal pro-prohibition voice in modern American politics, and this appointment doesn’t seem to mesh with Trump’s previous statements about the War on Drugs.

The core of DanceSafe’s work is on harm reduction, not drug policy per se. Weeding out misrepresentation in the recreational drug markets and educating users (and non-users) is a never-ending battle, and one that I think will continue unabated through many, many future administrations.

Since the initiation of drug prohibition as federal policy in 1937, we have been through 13 presidential administrations, with both Republicans and Democrats in charge. Although there have been ups and downs, the general trend has always remained one of prohibiting the possession and use of drugs. Although I am worried about a reversal of recent gains in the movement, it’s important to realize that the true reform of prohibition will likely be a generational fight. That being said, the confirmation of Jeff Sessions would concern many in the movement, myself included.

I know that right now many young people are experiencing what can only be described as panic around this election. They are justifiably afraid for themselves, their friends, and the United States. But it’s important that we not let anger and fear paralyze us. These emotions can be used as motivation, and the time to get involved in harm reduction and drug policy is NOW. Find an organization that speaks to you, and volunteer. Find a movement that needs you, and get involved. We have a long struggle ahead, and we need YOU.

*These are not official DanceSafe statements.

Diane Goldstein | Law Enforcement Action Partnership

It may be counterintuitive, but both the outcome of the presidential election and the big wins for marijuana legalization were caused by anti-establishment votes.

The focus of our work remains unchanged. Criminal justice and drug policy reform encompass a wide spectrum of issues that touch so many people. Civil asset forfeiture reform, harm reduction, marijuana and other drug regulation, and sentencing reform are just a few of the projects that we are working on both at the state and federal level.

When LEAP was founded in 2002, a Republican was president. Since that time, under both Democratic and Republican leadership, LEAP has been successful because we have built strong coalitions and partnerships and helped change laws in a number of states.

Fixing our broken criminal justice system requires us to reach across political lines. The issues we’re dealing with are non partisan. Though we may feel resistance from some groups more than others, we can find common ground on drug policy and criminal justice reform with anyone. The work LEAP does to bridge the divide between liberals, libertarians, and conservatives is one of our greatest strengths.

We have to keep an eye out for new cabinet members and newly elected congressmen who have previously worked against legalization efforts. It’s clear with the Trump administration’s choice of Jeff Session for attorney general that we need our focus to remain on supporting state and local-level reforms. Adult-use marijuana legalization has now passed through the ballot initiative process, rather than the legislature, in seven states and Washington, D.C. It proves people want something and are willing to go around traditional legislative methods. We certainly need to keep an eye out for people like Sessions, but there are ways states can use the 10th Amendment to ensure local and state sovereignty.

Additionally, I would point out that we need to hold both the vice president and the president-elect to their words. During the campaign, both Tim Kane and Mike Pence agreed on one thing, and that was criminal justice reform. According to theMarijuana Policy Project, Trump “supports legal access to medical marijuana, and he believes states should be able to set their own marijuana policies with regard to adult use.”

From the vice-presidential debate, Vice President-Elect Pence stated:

“We need to adopt criminal justice reform nationally. I signed criminal justice reform in the state of Indiana, and we are very proud of it. I worked when I was in Congress on the Second Chance Act. We have got to do a better job recognizing and correcting the errors in the system that do reflect institutional bias in the criminal justice system.”

Vote! Young people support important issues such as marijuana reform at a higher percentage than any other age group, but they don’t vote nearly as much as their grandparents. Millennials could be the largest voting block.

I would encourage youth to share important posts on social media to spread the word, but more importantly, visit websites or call organizations that you want to be a part of and find out how you can help. Students for Sensible Drug Policy is the biggest and most effective network of youth drug policy activists in the world, so if this issue is important to you, I highly recommend reaching out to them.

Henry Fisher | VolteFace

Coming from across the pond, the Trump victory had less of a direct effect on us, but waking up after results night brought back horrible echoes of the Brexit vote, and the feeling in London has certainly been very muted since. It certainly put the relative victory of the state cannabis ballots into perspective for many. While the tide of drug law reform is still currently moving in the right direction, the world feels like a less secure place.

We work to reform all sorts of different public policies relating to drugs, but our first and foremost priority is to call for a regulated cannabis market here in the U.K. With the progress that the U.S. has made on cannabis legalisation, we often find ourselves looking to America for inspiration. The worry that a Trump presidency could shut down what progress has occurred is certainly cause for concern. This could impact public perceptions of reform, making the likelihood of the U.K. as elsewhere adopting these policies look less certain.

What has been disturbing, in both the U.S. election and elsewhere, has been the sudden rise in far-right rhetoric and support, which fundamentally threaten the liberal ideals and principles that underpin the very foundations of drug policy reform, as well as wider social reforms. Ensuring open, tolerant, liberal voices are not lost in the clamor of populist sentiment and tabloid headlines is more important now than ever.

What has been interesting is watching many of the conversations that occurred here after Brexit play out almost identically in the U.S. after Trump. After the dust has cleared, what becomes quickly apparent is that hand-wringing doesn’t do any good. It’s worthwhile analyzing why so many people voted in a way that seems totally against what many of us stand for, but then after that starts the job of engaging, of changing minds, of finding a path forward that builds bridges rather than walls. This is certainly not an easy job, or one I can admit to being comfortable with, but a dialogue can’t be had between two people shouting at each other from opposite ends of a football pitch. They need to be sat round a table.

Hey! Before you go… Psymposia is a 501(c)(3) non-profit media organization that offers critical perspectives on drugs, politics, and culture. We strive to ask challenging questions, and we’re committed to independent reporting, critical analysis, and holding those who wield power accountable.

Our perspectives are informed by critical analysis of the systemic crises of capitalism that have directly contributed to the unmitigated growth of addiction, depression, suicide, and the unraveling of our social relations. The same economic elite and powerful corporate interests who have profited from causing these problems are now proposing “solutions”—solutions which both line their pockets and mask the necessity of structural change.   

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