Analyzing the Trump Administration’s 2020 Cannabis Policy

by Andrew Ward

As the Presidential election heads into the home stretch, each candidate has taken steps to clarify and delineate their crucial policy platforms. Neither President Donald Trump nor Joe Biden seems to view cannabis legalization as an issue worth pursuing. 

President Donald Trump’s first term in office has seen him go from a seeming supporter of states’ rights regarding marijuana to a possible legal market opponent. With Attorney General William Barr and Vice President Mike Pence in tow, the slippery slope toward cannabis prohibition is in the air.

What Donald Trump & His Camp Say About Cannabis Reform 

President Trump does not have a long history in lawmaking to compare his voting record like Joe Biden’s. That said, Trump has remained consistent in his support for states’ rights. “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,” he said to The Washington Post in 2016. 

“Trump has supported state’s rights to choose how to legislate medical marijuana, but has not expressly called for legalization,” wrote Business Insider‘s Jeremy Berke in 2016. Berke also mentioned Trump’s support for medical cannabis. 

The following years would bring a range of opinions on Trump’s cannabis policy. Some worried his appointment of original Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a staunch cannabis opponent. Meanwhile, others posited that Trump would listen to the people and champion federal reform

Neither has come to fruition. Instead, Jeff Sessions became a punching bag for the President after he recused himself during the Russia probes, leading to his firing in November 2018. Meanwhile, Trump has shown little willingness to support federal cannabis reform, though he said he ‘probably’ would end up supporting the STATES Act if it reached his desk. As of 2019, he continued to show support for leaving the decision up to individual states, significantly decreasing the likelihood of legalization under the current administration. 

“We’re going to see what’s going on. It’s a very big subject and right now we are allowing states to make that decision,” Trump told DC Examiner’s Steven Nelson in 2019. “A lot of states are making that decision, but we’re allowing states to make that decision.”

That said, 2019 also marked Trump’s decision to attach a signing statement to the federal funding bill. “In this instance, the signing statement, while vague, suggests that President Trump would have the authority to uphold federal law in accordance with his constitutional responsibilities,” wrote Motley Fool’s Sean Williams. “Again, while it’s unlikely that Trump would ignore previously passed protections for medical marijuana businesses, this signing statement, in theory, would allow him to do exactly that.”

Policy Stances In 2020

Trump’s reelection website does not list any platforms for 2020 and beyond. Instead, it touts past achievements, with no mention of cannabis or marijuana included. Without any definitive statements from the campaign, we are left to examine recent news to assess where the President and his administration stand. 

Recent developments indicate that Trump is either staying with the status quo or reversing course. In a February 2020 interview with Trump 2020 Director of Strategic Communications Marc Lotter, he told CBS Las Vegas where the President stands on the issue.  

“I think the president is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent—a parent of a young person—to make sure we keep our kids away from drugs,” Lotter stated. “They need to be kept illegal. That is the federal policy.”

The President’s stance may be rooted in largely debunked medical claims. In January 2020, leaked audio from a 2018 private event found Trump stating that pot smoking led to a reduction in IQ. That said, the audio also captured Trump expressing his uncertainty over whether states legalizing was good or bad for the country. 

The President’s oldest son, Don Jr., also chimed in, offering support for cannabis. “Alcohol does much more damage,” he said. “You don’t see people beating their wives on marijuana.”

In August of this year, Trump made more marijuana headlines. At a campaign event, this time warned lawmakers not to include cannabis legalization as ballot initiatives due to increased voter turnout. “You brought out like a million people that nobody ever knew were coming out,” Trump said of higher than expected voter turnouts. 

How Does Vice President Mike Pence Impact Federal Marijuana Policy?

Vice President Mike Pence is an ardent conservative, both politically and personally. The religious VP is one who abstains from most vices, cannabis included. 

However, the true impact could come from the man Trump replaced Sessions with as attorney general, Bill Barr. June 2020 allegations against Barr paint an AG who hates marijuana and is willing to use antitrust probes to receive cannabis companies’ documents. 

John Elias, an antitrust prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice told Congress, “Personal dislike of the industry is not a proper basis upon which to ground an antitrust investigation.” However, the DOJ issued its defense a few days after the allegations, citing a department document justifying the probes, with a misconduct office ruling in similar fashion. 

What To Look For Next

President Trump has been known to flip his stances often. With cannabis, however, there has been little shift since his campaign began. While some can argue he has regressed on state’s rights issues, Trump has also continued to leave the case in state lawmakers’ hands when asked. 

That said, Trump’s views on the plant are stuck in old-era misinformation and could stunt a burgeoning market and a nation in need of revenue. While his old-era views are concerning, it is the views of Attorney General Barr that could be most worrying for the space. While the probe has cleared Barr of any wrongdoing, the issue is the latest in his recent dealings on Capitol Hill. 

What, if any, effect Barr has on Trump’s reelection efforts remains to be seen. However, both Trump, Barr, and the rest of the administration are lightning rods for controversy over the past four years. As such, cannabis may play a part in swaying voters, but it is likely the other news surrounding Trump that is most likely to convince or repel voters in November. 

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