How Will President-Elect Trump Handle Legalized Cannabis?

President-Elect Trump has installed both hope and despair in cannabis activists, many of whom are now worried about cannabis legalization.

Nov 22, 2016

Throughout the presidential campaign, President-Elect Trump offered scant details on how he would address many of the nation’s concerns. One example of Trump’s opacity relates to his approach to cannabis policy. Over the course of Trump’s time in public life, he has instilled both hope and despair in cannabis activists, many of whom are now looking to discern how a Trump administration will address the evolving issue of cannabis legalization.

Past statements from President-Elect Trump

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On the one hand, there are reasons to believe that President-Elect Trump would be open to allowing legalization measures to stand, at least at the state level.

For example, Trump mentioned at a Nevada rally that he thought the issue of cannabis legalization “should be a state issue, state-by-state.”

Earlier, in an interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 1990, Trump indicated that he was open to a radically different approach to the enforcement of the nation’s drug laws,

We’re losing badly the War on Drugs… You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.

But President-Elect Trump appeared to backtrack on those statements years later while speaking with Sean Hannity at a CPAC conference, saying that he was made uneasy about Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis:

I say it’s bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about it… If they vote for it, they vote for it… But, you know, they have got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado. Some big problems.

Vice President Pence

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By contrast, members of Trump’s team have been relatively straightforward in how they are likely to approach the cannabis issue.

Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, for example, has had a less-than-supportive stance on cannabis in his home state of Indiana: Pence opposed a measure proposed in the Indiana state House in 2014 that would have lowered penalties for cannabis possession.

Pence’s opposition would normally not be great cause for alarm among cannabis supporters since the office of the vice president has little authority in terms of its ability to influence legislation.

Trump, however, has indicated that Pence will have broad sway over the course of legislation in the forthcoming administration.

Attorney General Sessions

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Trump’s selection of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to fill the position of Attorney General has also raised red flags among some cannabis activists. Sessions in the past has described cannabis as “dangerous” and “a very real danger,” and stated that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

The selection of Sessions was met with despondency among some cannabis activists, including Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Jeff Sessions is a drug war dinosaur, which is the last thing the nation needs right now… Those who counted on Donald Trump’s reassurance that marijuana reforms ‘should be a state issue’ will be sorely disappointed.

And not just Democrats but the many Republicans as well who favor rolling back the war on drugs had better resist this nomination.

Nov 22, 2016