After nearly two years of twists and turns, the Trump administration almost seems to enjoy sending mixed signals when it comes to marijuana policy.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said marijuana legalization should be a “state-by-state” issue. Candidate Trump spoke pointedly of his views on medicinal cannabis and a state’s right to legalize marijuana during an October 29, 2015, campaign rally in Sparks, Nevada.
“I do like it, you know, from a medical standpoint – it does do pretty good things. But from the other standpoint, I think that it should be up to the states,” Trump said to a very pumped-on-Making-America-Great-Again crowd. Fact-checking site PolitiFact verified Trump’s statement as true Feb. 28, 2017.
But after the 2016 election, President Trump’s “state-by-state” commitment waned. Trump, once in office, remained mum on the issue as Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memorandum in early January 2018, and Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas (no relation to Jeff Sessions) effectively killed pieces of legislation that would help American veterans access medicinal cannabis, and legal medical marijuana states protect themselves from federal interference throughout the year.
Then, in April 2018, Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said that Trump offered his endorsement for Gardner’s bipartisan bill to protect the marijuana industry in states that have legalized cannabis.
At best, President Trump’s position on cannabis policy has been nonexistent; at worst, it’s up for grabs.
Enter the ‘Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee’
Now it appears that some in the White House are trying to weaponize negative statistics associated with marijuana legalization in an attempt to thwart public support for cannabis legalization and to further a prohibitionist agenda, according to a breakthrough Aug. 30, 2018, BuzzFeed News report.
“The prevailing marijuana narrative in the U.S. is partial, one-sided, and inaccurate,” noted a documented summary of a July 27, 2018, White House meeting. A follow-up memo asked department officials to provide “the most significant data demonstrating negative trends, with a statement describing the implications of such trends.”
The administration’s anti-weed group, dubbed the Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee in White House emails and memos, comprises the Drug Enforcement Administration and 14 federal agencies, according to the BuzzFeed News report. The committee’s ultimate task is to compile as much information that counters the success of states that have legalized marijuana and gaslights the public’s support of cannabis to brief President Trump “on marijuana threats.”
So, who could possibly have devoted massive resources and tasked the group with ferreting out and publicizing any dark, nefarious facts with regards to legal cannabis? The usual suspects — Jeff Sessions, Chief of Staff John Kelly, Office of National Drug Control Policy Deputy Director James Carroll — come to mind, but regardless, the committee seems intent on utilizing the report to sway Trump’s apparently malleable attitude towards cannabis policy.
Making policy seems to be a matter of timing in the Trump administration. As Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman argued, Trump follows a pattern and the dance goes like this: President Trump makes an uninformed statement on an issue, a knowledgeable person in his orbit corrects him on the matter and explains the substance behind an issue, and Trump doesn’t really care and flops his position.
So, if you want to flip the president’s opinion, you simply need to come prepared — and be the last person who speaks with him.
‘Resistance’ in the Trump Administration
In a New York Times op-ed published Sept. 5, 2018, a person the newspaper attested is a senior official in the Trump administration disclosed that a secretive and clandestine “resistance” is running roughshod over Trump’s policy.
“I work for the president, but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations,” the anonymous author wrote.
This soft, democracy-as-a-plaything brand of coup d’état raises one primary concern for the current administration and the marijuana community: Who’s actually fanning the flames of marijuana misinformation and trying to influence federal cannabis policy?
In this political whodunit, odds are that Sessions is probably not the author of the op-ed or part of the current resistance running amok in the White House. That said, the beleaguered attorney general does have allies in high places within the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), who have in the past been directed to target specific activities in legal marijuana states, as Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu of California had warned in a press release about the agency’s activities in Washington state.
While who penned the the op-ed is only known to a select few in the newspaper, or who summoned the administration’s new anti-weed committee is unclear, one thing’s for certain – they have an unpopular agenda, as a Pew Research Center survey in January 2018 found that about six in Americans favor marijuana legalization.
But, because Trump is Trump, this committee and its report — if successful in bending the president’s ear — may influence future federal cannabis policy.