Marijuana is now legal in some form or another in 29 states.

President-elect Donald Trump once called the county’s drug enforcement efforts “a joke.”

He once said legalizing drugs was a better tactic.

“You have to legalize drugs to win that war,” he said in an article in the Miami Herald, published in 1990. “You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”

But as the dust settles after a contentious election – and after another eight states legalized some form of weed – the future of marijuana under Trump isn’t quite clear.

Marijuana is now legal in some form or another in 29 states. In this election, Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas voted to legalize medical marijuana, while four states voted to legalize weed for recreational purposes – California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada – and Montana eased restrictions on its pre-existing medical marijuana law.

Marijuana proponents and opponents said the decisions – particularly California’s passage of recreational pot – could spread legalization to other states and increase pressure on the federal government to reclassify marijuana. The Drug Enforcement Administration currently puts marijuana in the same criminal category as heroin and ecstasy. In an interview last week, President Barack Obama himself suggested that enforcing federal laws against marijuana may become “untenable” if states vote to legalize.

Some interviews suggest Trump might adopt Obama’s largely hands-off approach to state legalization efforts. But although Trump once railed against the drug war, he has since rolled back his enthusiasm for reforming the country’s drug enforcement policies.

In the Washington Post last year, Trump said he believes marijuana legalization should be up to individual states. And in a February interview with Bill O’Reilly, Trump said he supported medical marijuana but expressed concerns about legalization in Colorado.

Vice president-elect Mike Pence has been a strong anti-legalization advocate. Others Trump adds to his administration may also play a large role.

“It’s quite likely Rudy Giuliani or someone like that will become attorney general, and he’s been a hard core drug warrior for many decades,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Mike Pence, the incoming vice president, has been a total drug warrior. And (Trump supporter) Sheldon Adelson was the biggest funder of the anti-marijuana effort in this year’s election.”

The patchwork of state laws across the country already has ensured the continuation of a hearty black market for weed in California and beyond. With the price of pot now expected to drop as much as 90 percent in California, many growers are likely to continue sending weed illegally out of the state.

In recent years, as federal authorities scaled back drug raids, the illegal marijuana growing industry in rural Northern California exploded, vastly eclipsing local law enforcement’s efforts to stop it.

One result, detailed in our recent investigation, is widespread sex abuse and trafficking of workers in the Emerald Triangle, one of the country’s top suppliers of illegal weed. Decades of battles between law enforcement and marijuana growers there have created a culture of secrecy that caused labor abuses to flourish.

As California and other states form regulations and begin to issue cultivation and sales licenses in 2018, officials hope the workplace abuses will decrease. But in the absence of national clarity, others believe the abuses are likely to continue for years to come.

“As long as we have a black market, unfortunately, some of that is going to continue,” said newly re-elected Assemblyman Jim Wood, a Democrat who represents part of Northern California’s primary marijuana growing region. He pledged to make special funding for law enforcement a priority in the next legislative session.

“As this industry becomes more and more legitimized, we need the resources to go to help with some of these things,” he said. “My hope is that it begins to change. It’s just not going to happen overnight.”

Shoshana Walter can be reached at swalter@cironline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @shoeshine.

Shoshana Walter

Shoshana Walter is a reporter for Reveal, covering criminal justice. She and reporter Amy Julia Harris exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting. It also won the Knight Award for Public Service, a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting, and an Edward R. Murrow Award, and was a finalist for the Selden Ring, IRE and Livingston Awards. It led to numerous government investigations, two criminal probes and five federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery, labor violations and fraud.

Walter's investigation on America's armed security guard industry revealed how armed guard licenses have been handed out to people with histories of violence, even people barred by courts from owning guns. Walter and reporter Ryan Gabrielson won the 2015 Livingston Award for Young Journalists for national reporting based on the series, which prompted new laws and an overhaul of California’s regulatory system. For her 2016 investigation about the plight of "trimmigrants," marijuana workers in California's Emerald Triangle, Walter embedded herself in illegal mountain grows and farms. There, she encountered an epidemic of sex abuse and human trafficking in the industry – and a criminal justice system focused more on the illegal drugs. The story prompted legislation, a criminal investigation and grass-roots efforts by the community, including the founding of a worker hotline and safe house.

Walter began her career as a police reporter for The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, and previously covered violent crime and the politics of policing in Oakland, California, for The Bay Citizen. Her narrative nonfiction as a local reporter garnered a national Sigma Delta Chi Award and a Gold Medal for Public Service from the Florida Society of News Editors. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she has been a Dart Center Ochberg fellow for journalism and trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim fellow in criminal justice journalism. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.