The move looks less like a shift in policy than an effort to influence President Trump.
4 min read
President Trump has said states should decide their own marijuana laws but his administration has launched a coordinated effort to argue that is the wrong policy for his administration, according to an investigative report by BuzzFeed News.
According to internal documents obtained by BuzzFeed, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has instructed the Drug Enforcement Administration and 14 other federal agencies to submit “data demonstrating the most significant negative trends” about marijuana and the “threats” it poses to the country.
The instructions to the so-called Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee are pointedly not to conduct an even-handed search for data about the pros and cons of marijuana legalization.
“The prevailing marijuana narrative in the U.S. is partial, one-sided, and inaccurate,” says a summary of a July 27 meeting of the White House and nine departments obtained by BuzzFeed. A second White House memo to participating federal agencies stated, “Departments should provide … the most significant data demonstrating negative trends, with a statement describing the implications of such trends.”
According to the documents obtained by BuzzFeed, the committee is planning to brief Trump “on marijuana threats.”
The Trump Administration’s marijuana policy is difficult to discern. Trump’s Attorney General is Jeff Sessions, a notoriously zealous advocate of marijuana prohibition who formally voided the Obama Administration’s hands off policy toward marijuana businesses operating legally under state laws. In practice, however, the Department of Justice never undertook significant enforcement actions before Congress prohibited it from prosecuting state-legal businesses.
The politics of marijuana have changed in recent years. States that have legalized recreational marijuana for adults are seeing revenue windfalls with few problems, while reports are accumulating of reductions in opioid overdoses in states with legal medical marijuana.
One of the most active congressional defenders of state-legal marijuana is Senator Cory Gardner, a conservative Republican from Colorado. Gardner for months used his senatorial prerogative to block appointments to the Justice Department to oppose federal enforcement against state legal marijuana businesses. In April he and Trump announced a deal, in which Gardner dropped his opposition to the Justice appointments in exchange for Trump promising to support legislation permanently shielding those businesses.
Gardner’s office released a statement saying he remains “confident” he has Trump’s support for a bill.
“There seems to be a lot of interest in these storylines going around about how staff are trying to manipulate the president or to work around his firmly held policy positions – including the position he’s held since the campaign that marijuana policy is best left to the states …,” Gardner spokesman Alex Siciliano said, according to The Denver Post.
Related: Trump Basically Says Obama-Era Marijuana Policies Aren’t Going to Change
The BuzzFeed report is already factoring into Colorado politics, where Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat running for governor this year, said news of the committee shows “Pres. Trump is flailing on marijuana policy, sometimes saying the states should decide, while also allowing the Attorney General and other prohibition supporters in his purview to run amuck (sic). If the White House is actually spreading misinformation about marijuana to undercut states’ rights, it’s appalling but not out of the ordinary for President Trump and his gang of prohibition supporters.”
Public support for legalizing recreational marijuana is overwhelming and even higher for medical marijuana. According to polling by Quinnipiac University, American voters by a margin of 63 – 33 percent favor legalizing marijuana in the U.S. while 93 percent support medical marijuana with only 5 percent opposed.