Back in June 2018, President Donald Trump said that he was ‘likely’ to support a legislative proposal to allow individual states the right to decide if weed should be legalized. His stance was in stark contrast to that of then-Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who expressed a desire to enforce federal law and arrest those who grew and sold weed in states where it was legal to do so.
Therein lies the problem: there is an excellent chance that Trump only outlined his vague desire to support the state’s rights bill to irritate Sessions, because the duo was barely on speaking terms at that point. Sessions was later fired and replaced by Matt Whitaker, a man who seemingly has no strong opinions on marijuana legalization one way or the other.
Everyone knew that Whitaker was a stop-gap, and in early 2019, Matt Barr was appointed as the new permanent Attorney General of the United States. This is his second stint, having also served under President George H. W. Bush from 1991 to 1993.
During his confirmation hearing, Barr said he didn’t plan to go after marijuana companies that comply with state law. But is there more to the story than this? Keep on reading to discover some of the surprising plans President Trump might have in store in regard to marijuana legalization…
Trump on Marijuana: What is the Current State of Play?
Although Barr’s stance is good news insofar as those living in the 33 states where weed is legal for medicinal use no longer have to live in fear of arrest, it does nothing to forward the cause for nationwide legalization. In December 2018, Cory Gardner looked for the unanimous consent of his fellow senators to consider the amendment of the reform bill to add legal protections for individuals who grow, use, sell, or buy weed in compliance with the recreational and medicinal laws around the country.
Alas, the proposal was rejected by Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican who serves Iowa. It was an action that effectively killed Gardner’s proposal. It is also important to note that Barr said it was “a mistake to back off on marijuana.” According to the new Attorney General, if states are to have their own laws, it is necessary to do it in the ‘right’ way which presumably means no federal interference.
If you think this signals the end of potential legalization, you need to have a rethink. As of the end of February 2019, most of the major 2020 Presidential candidates now support marijuana legalization, this even includes Republicans!
Elizabeth Warren is one of the Democrat Party’s frontrunners, and her stance on weed legalization has changed enormously over the last few years. In 2012, Warren was strongly opposed to legalization, but by 2015, she admitted being ‘open’ to it and the following year, she privately voted for it at the ballot box. Today, she is one of the staunchest proponents of cannabis legalization.
What Else Do We Know About the Trump Administration’s Views on Cannabis?
Warren’s evolution on the subject of marijuana legalization is far from being unique. At the time of writing, there are 12 potential Democrat Presidential candidates, and all of them have spoken publicly of their support for weed.
Kamala Harris is another viable candidate, and like Warren, her views on pot have changed over the years. Back in 2008, she was known for her high conviction rates for drug dealers while working as a prosecutor. Today, she has hopped on the marijuana bandwagon. Former vice president, Joe Biden, is another that has transformed himself from war on drugs supporter to weed advocate.
John Hickenlooper is unlikely to win an election, but his opinion on marijuana has arguably changed more drastically than any other candidate. The governor of Colorado actively fought against the legalization of cannabis in his home state but recently admitted that his fears of underage use were unfounded. He now believes that a state has the right to legalize the substance and the federal government should be aiding, not fighting the issue.
While support on the Republican side is not quite as strong, it still exists. The former Massachusetts Governor, William F. Weld, has long been a supporter of full Canada-style legalization.
As for whether President Trump will legalize marijuana, it is exceedingly unlikely even though he theoretically could get the ball rolling. Trump is a populist, and if he believes that support for weed legalization is strong enough, he could use an executive action or sign a bill into law. However, even his approval would still require several other hurdles to be negotiated.
Marijuana Legalization Under the Trump Administration?
The idea of Trump being the savior of marijuana seems laughable, but given the state of the political sphere at present, it isn’t as far-fetched as one might think. He is a historically unpopular president, and a poll in early March places his popularity rating at just 40%, although some polls have his rating as high as 46%.
Despite the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Election, it is highly likely that Trump will seek re-election. Usually, the sitting president is unopposed during the primaries, but it is probable that Trump will face opposition from within his own party. He has remained virtually silent on the marijuana issue since his June 2018 utterances, but there is no question that he would consider supporting weed legalization if it increases his chances of re-election.
As of the end of 2018, 64% of Americans supported nationwide medicinal marijuana legalization, including 51% of Republicans. Weed is a hot topic right now, and Trump isn’t especially popular with Millennials. However, that demographic supports weed legalization in a big way, so it could be an item that helps him pick up unexpected votes.
A quick look at the political map suggests Trump’s advisors should be urging him to take a public pro-marijuana stance. The likely ‘swing’ states in 2020 include Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. All of them have a form of medical marijuana legalization in place, while other important states, Nevada and Colorado, allow weed for recreational use.
Practically all of the Democrat candidates are already on board with marijuana legalization, but their Republican counterparts are beginning to catch up. Admittedly, leading Republicans such as Mitch McConnell remain staunchly against weed, but past and present Republican governors such as Jan Brewer in Arizona, Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, and Brian Sandoval of Nevada all implemented their state’s medical or recreational programs after initially voting against the ballot initiatives.
Final Thoughts on the Trump Administration’s (Unlikely) Weed Legalization
Although the last thing we want is for marijuana to be used as a political football, it may well be the only way legalization becomes a reality. In answer to the title question: We have to say it is unlikely that Trump will end the federal ban on cannabis, but it is not an open and shut case.
During his 2016 campaign, Trump told a Colorado TV station that he would not crack down on marijuana businesses if they were compliant with state laws. He said that he would respect states’ rights. At a CPAC conference in the same year, he said that recreational marijuana was bad, but medical weed was another thing.
In other words, there is little chance of full legalization like in Canada, but there is a slight chance that he could legalize medical cannabis. Remember, this is a president who changes his mind like the weather, and his unpredictability, plus his eagerness to get a second presidential term, means he could yet surprise us.