Supporters of cannabis got unexpected good news from the federal government last week when President Trump seemingly threw his hat behind a bill to protect the rights of states that have legalized pot.
Before boarding his flight for G7, Trump told reporters gathered on the South Lawn that he was leaning towards backing a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo.
“I support Senator Gardner. I know exactly what he’s doing,” Trump was quoted as saying when asked about the proposed legislation. “We’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”
This comes in sharp contrast to the actions of Trump’s much-maligned Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.
Back in January, Sessions famously overturned the Obama-era Cole Memo, which had in part protected states that had approved legal pot from federal intervention. In reversing that memo, Sessions gave the green light to U.S. attorneys to hold up federal law against states that had approved legal cannabis. In other words, states with legal pot were no longer protected against federal crackdown.
The bill proposed by Warren and Gardner would allow states to effectively set their own laws regarding pot. In many ways this would bring America back to the situation under the Cole memo. Cannabis would remain federally illegal — but legal in states that approved it.
From a statement released that summarizes the bill: “The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act ensures that each State has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders. The bill also extends these protections to Washington D.C, U.S. territories, and federally recognized tribes, and contains common-sense guardrails to ensure that states, territories, and tribes regulating marijuana do so in a manner that is safe and respectful of the impacts on their neighbors.”
(Interesting to note: the bill bans distribution of marijuana at transportation safety facilities like rest areas and truck stops.)
Trump’s words of support for the STATES Act came only 24 hours after Warren and Gardner proposed it. The president certainly is not afraid to speak his mind on current topics. At the same time, he has also shown willingness to change position on big issues.
So how does Trump really feel about legal cannabis?
On one hand, his support for the bill protecting states’ rights with cannabis can be seen as another rebuke of Sessions. Trump’s enmity for his attorney general is no secret. He has thrown Sessions under the bus so many times that Sessions may as well just stay laid-out in the road at this point. That Trump has willingly disagreed with the outspokenly anti-pot Sessions should come as no surprise.
And then there are Trump’s comments during his presidential campaign. Repeatedly he called recreational cannabis an issue to be decided on the state level.
“I wouldn’t do that [federally crack down], no,” he said during a July 26, 2016 radio interview. “I wouldn’t do that . . . I think it’s up to the states, yeah. I’m a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.”
His support for medicinal cannabis has also been consistent. “I do like it, you know, from a medical standpoint,” Trump said during a March interview in 2016. “It does do pretty good things.” This is not the first nor the last time that Trump has spoken in favor of medical pot.
In the same radio interview, he added, “From the other standpoint [recreational], I think that it should be up to the states.”
This all echoes his words from a campaign rally in October of 2015 when Trump exclaimed, “And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states. It should be a state situation . . . in terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state.”
There is very little on record that might suggest Trump harbors contrary feelings towards recreational cannabis. Other than agreeing with Bill O’Reilly during an interview in February of 2016 that it’s concerning that black-market operators might buy up legal cannabis in Colorado, Trump has not said anything that would send shivers down the spines of the pro-pot community.
For the most part, it’s been his attorney general whose words have shaken the cannabis world from a federal standpoint. But with Trump less than enamored these days with Sessions, and outspokenly supporting the efforts of Cory Gardner, it appears that the president still believes in states’ rights for pot. At least for now.
And that may mean that those who feared federal crackdown of cannabis under Sessions have always had an ally in the White House who could trump the attorney general.
Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Wholesaler and Cannabis Regulator. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece What’s Next for Cannabis in New Jersey.