News broke this week that Steve Cook, described by the Associated Press as ‘a zealous prosecutor who was crucial in writing the Justice Department’s new policy encouraging harsher punishments for criminals,’ has turned his attention towards cannabis. No details were released as to what exactly that means for the cannabis community, but given Mr. Cook’s background, the news does not appear to be a good thing.

The news comes after anti-cannabis comments were made by members of the Trump Administration earlier this year. In February White House press secretary Sean Spicer stated that he expects ‘greater enforcement’ of federal cannabis prohibition laws. In the same month Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the following comments, per Politico:

“Most of you probably know I don’t think America is going to be a better place when more people of all ages and particularly young people start smoking pot,” Sessions said during an exchange with reporters at the Justice Department. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago.”

“We’re seeing real violence around that,” Sessions said. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.”

“I’m definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” he said. “States they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”

Jeff Sessions also stated the following during a speech to state attorney generals, also earlier this year:

“I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana being sold at every corner grocery store. Marijuana is a cure for opiate abuse? Give me a break. This is the kind of argument that has been made out there. It’s just almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits.”

These types of comments have caused a lot of anxiety in the professional sports world were current and retired athletes have been making a serious push to reform cannabis policies in sports leagues. Some media articles have reported that the anti-cannabis comments made by members of the Trump administration have made some athletes think twice about speaking out and supporting reform for fear of persecution. The Uncle Cliffy team can understand that these comments sound scary, but continues to encourage athletes to keep pushing forward.

While it’s possible that the federal government could target a pro athlete for personal cannabis use, such a move would be unprecedented, and is highly unlikely. It is much more likely that the cannabis comments and news coming out of the White House are more rhetoric than anything. By making such comments the Trump administration, and likely sports league officials, knows that it will create a chilling effect that will possibly slow down reform efforts, or convince advocates to abandon them altogether.

The fact remains that cannabis is no more or less prohibited at the federal level and in most sports leagues than it was prior to these comments and news being published. Do they increase or decrease the odds of a player being unfairly sanctioned by the league they play in? Of course not. Players are still going to be targeted in the future, just as they have been in the past until cannabis prohibition ends in professional sports.

The use of scary rhetoric is nothing new when it comes to keeping cannabis prohibition in place. Anti-cannabis statements have been used for decades by opponents in an attempt to dishearten people’s advocacy. Sadly, it often works. Many advocates feel that it’s too much of an uphill battle and there is too much to risk so they remain silent. This cannot happen in the sports cannabis movement. Athletes need to proceed onward and continue to fight for justice and compassion.

If athletes stay quiet and let fear tactics win, prohibition will remain in place. Suffering athletes like Seantrel Henderson from the Buffalo Bills will continue to be punished by the NFL, despite the fact that Seantrel’s use is entirely for medical purposes. Pro sports leagues will continue to perpetuate institutional racism by punishing players for cannabis arrests away from their team, even though mathematical data clearly shows that law enforcement arrests minorities at a disproportionate rate compared to Caucasians. As long as prohibition remains in place, athletes will continue to be punished for using a substance that is 114 times safer than alcohol while leagues simultaneously embrace alcohol, and with it, demonstrate a level of hypocrisy that should never be tolerated.

“Professional athletes need to keep pushing forward and keep calling for reform in leagues that prohibit cannabis use. Advocating for cannabis reform is not always easy, but it is always noble, and with the truth on our side we will eventually prevail and get these leagues on the right side of history.” said Cliff Robinson.