Donald Trump has been causing a stir since he first came on the political scene, but few announcements have united both parties against him as thoroughly as the suggestion that he might crack down on marijuana. Rumors before, during, and after his campaign ranged from support of legalization to a desire to leave the issue in the hands of the states. Therefore, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s announcement in February of 2017 that the Department of Justice may be strengthening enforcement of marijuana laws came as a buzzkill to the masses. Overall, Trump has flip flopped on this issue widely throughout his life, but given the sheer number of issues he is faced with, few seem to have expected this to be on the docket anytime soon. Now that it is, many are wondering just what is rumor and what is fact. What can the public expect from Donald Trump on marijuana?
Republican Views on Marijuana
Traditionally, the Republican Party tends to be against legalization, with the opposite being true for Democrats. A recent gallup polls showed only 35 percent of Republicans supporting legalization, with 65 percent of Democrats supporting it. Because of this, support for legalization is lowest in the south and Midwest, where most states are Republican (and where Trump won the most states), and highest on the east and west coasts, where the states tend to be Democratic.
However, Trump’s beliefs have not always been aligned with his party’s on this front. Back in 1990, Trump stated that legalizing all drugs was the only way to win the war on drugs. However, more recently, he has toned down that belief and swayed from letting states decide to regulating non-medical use of marijuana. During his campaign, Trump told the Washington Post that he supported letting states decide on this issue, stating, “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state. Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should happen — right? Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.” This did not fall too far from the Republican Party’s ideals, as on most other issues they support leaving such decisions in the hands of the states. Trump also told Bill O’Reilly that he was in full support of medical marijuana, and had even seen some success stories first hand.
However, in the very same interview with O’Reilly, Trump called Colorado’s marijuana industry “a real problem.” Mike Pence is also a proponent of the harshest marijuana sentencing laws in existence. Amid all of this, supporters and opposers alike were left with little idea what Trump’s presidency had in store for marijuana legalization.
Spicer and Sessions
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer have been the ones doing most of the talking on the issue lately. Spicer said that we should expect to see a crack down on enforcement of marijuana laws, gong on to compare marijuana use to the use of other illegal drugs such as opioids. “When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people,” Spicer said. “There is still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and drugs of that nature.” Spicer was careful to differentiate between recreational and medical marijuana, giving legalization supporters that, at the very least, medical marijuana will remain protected under the Trump administration.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a long record of being against marijuana legalization and decriminalization, and has potentially helped to sway the beliefs of the president, along with Spicer and Vice President Pence, who has also long been a critic of legalization. One of Sessions’ greatest arguments against legalization is the higher levels of THC in today’s marijuana, as compared to a few decades ago. “I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” Sessions told reporters. “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, and we’re seeing real violence around that.” Sessions elaborated on how this violence is occurring, stating, “You can’t sue somebody for drug debt; the only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that.” Sessions said.
Many argue that Sessions is unknowingly defeating his own argument with these statements. “By talking about marijuana and violence, the attorney general is inadvertently articulating the strongest argument that exists for legalization, which is that it allows regulated markets in a way that prohibition does not,” said Tom Angell, chairman of drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority. “The only connection between marijuana and violence is the one that exists when illegal sellers battle it out for profits in the black market.”
However, Sessions went on to say that “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.” This seems to be in line with the most commonly cited belief of the Trump administration, that marijuana is to be a state issue, but that medical marijuana is much more well-supported than recreational marijuana.
- Department of Justice announces possibility of enforcement against recreational marijuana – The Daily Californian
- Here’s where President-elect Donald Trump stands on marijuana legalization – Business Insider
- White House: Feds will step up marijuana law enforcement – CNN Politics
- Jeff Sessions Issues Ominous Warning On State Marijuana Legalization – The Huffington Post