California overwhelmingly votes to legalise cannabis, but America also elects Trump as President

(Flickr -Omar Barcena)

Voters in California, the largest US state and on its own the 6th largest economy in the world, have just legalised cannabis for recreational use in a historical ballot – as did Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine – joining the states of Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, and Washington D.C. California marks the latest and largest step in a ‘domino effect’ that clearly marks the beginning of the end of cannabis prohibition, not just in the US, but globally. But could Trump jeopardise this progress?

What makes California significant is its sheer size and political influence– it has a total population of over 38 million people and the 6th largest economy in the world. To put that into perspective, Canada (which is also legalising cannabis) has a population of 35 million people and is the 10th largest global economy.

The US federal government cannot ignore an event that calls into question US federal drug laws, particularly relating to cannabis, but potentially also for other drugs if cannabis regulation is ultimately deemed a success. Outgoing President Barack Obama recognised this reality when he said recently, “The Justice department, DEA, FBI — for them to try to straddle and try to figure out how they’re supposed to enforce some laws in some places and not in others, that is not going to be tenable”

8 states and D.C. now have legal adult access to cannabis for non-medical recreational use, covering almost 70 million people. It is only a matter of time before more US states begin the process of legalising cannabis and denying organized crime of the proceeds. With the last Mexican President Calderon having said his country would have to follow suit if California legalised, Canada’s and Uruguay’s legal markets opening soon, and countries like Spain and the Netherlands with their own de facto legal markets, the question globally is no longer “Should we legalise and regulate cannabis?”, but rather “How do we legalise and regulate cannabis?”

There is a potential problem: President-elect Donald Trump


(Flickr - Nicolas Raymond)

On the same day that California voted to legalise cannabis, the rest of the nation also voted to elect Trump as the 45th President of the United States. It’s too early to determine what the Trump Administration means for US, and indeed global drug policy, but we can certainly judge what he has said in the past, and hope that he respects the ‘will of the people’ and honours rather than opposes California’s decision to legalise cannabis



And in 1990, Trump argued that the only way to win the war on drugs was to legalise them and use the tax revenue to fund drug education programs. In his words, "You have to take the profit away from these drug czars." And he pledged to respect state marijuana laws at the Conservative Political Action Conference last year. However, a number of senior individuals in his likely administration, including Rudy Guiliani, Chris Christie, as well as Vice President Mike Pence are arch opponents of cannabis regulation.



So as with so much else in the Trump policy platform, there is little clarity and no one can predict which way Trump will go on this issue. That said, a green tide of reform is sweeping across the US and the globe - and as the success of these innovations spreads - so it seems inevitable that the dominoes will keep falling – even if one or two fall a little more slowly than they might have.



We will be sending Trump’s team a copy of our new book ‘How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide’ – which includes California’s new model. If you would like a print or free pdf copy please visit:


Author: Ben CampbellCommunications Officer for Transform Drug Policy Foundation