POLITICS
06/08/2018 04:50 pm ET

Trump Supports Relaxing Federal Pot Laws, In Blow To Jeff Sessions

If the legislation is signed into law, it would resolve a decadeslong conflict between state and federal marijuana laws.
The president's stated position on marijuana policy puts him at odds with Jeff Sessions.
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
The president's stated position on marijuana policy puts him at odds with Jeff Sessions.

President Donald Trump said Friday that he “probably” will support a new congressional bill that would prevent the federal government from interfering with states that legalize marijuana.

Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Thursday introduced the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States (STATES) Act. The bold bill would allow businesses and individuals working in the burgeoning legal marijuana industry in states around the nation to operate without fear of U.S. Department of Justice prosecution. The bill would also protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses. 

When reporters asked about his support for the legislation, Trump said “I really do,” just before he boarded a helicopter on his way to the G7 summit in Canada. “I support Sen. Gardner. I know exactly what he’s doing. We’re looking at it, but I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”

Marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, despite states’ efforts to scale back on criminalizing the plant over the past few years. Legal recreational marijuana has been approved in nine states and Washington, D.C., which continues to ban sales, unlike the state programs. A total of 29 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.  

If Trump signs the bill into law, the legislation would resolve that conflict between the state and federal marijuana laws.

But before Trump can sign anything, the bill, of course, must make it through Congress. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has said recently that he opposes federal marijuana legalization. And his office echoed that today when HuffPost reached out for comment. Stephanie Penn, press secretary for McConnell said, “As the senator said on numerous occasions, including a recent media stakeout: ‘I do not have any plans to endorse the legalization of marijuana.’”

The supportive remarks put Trump, who repeatedly said he would respect states’ rights on marijuana during his campaign for the presidency, in direct conflict with the views of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The former Alabama senator has long held draconian views on marijuana and has advocated for the disastrous war on drugs. 

In January, Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance that urged federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations. This move has possibly paved the way for a federal crackdown on legal marijuana. Gardner and Warren, both supporters of marijuana legalization by states, developed the bill in response to Sessions’ action.

At a Thursday press conference regarding the new bill, Gardner said he had spoken to the president about the legislation. “In previous conversations, he talked about the need to solve this conflict,” Gardner said. “He talked about his support for a states’ rights approach during the campaign. Not putting words in the mouth of the White House, but I think this will be an opportunity for us to fulfill what is that federalism approach.”

Sessions said during an interview with Colorado Public Radio on Friday that he didn’t attend the Gardner and Trump meetings on the proposed change to federal marijuana policy.

Advocates who support the end of federal marijuana prohibition were hopeful that Trump’s remarks could lead to meaningful policy change. 

“The president has a rare opportunity to get behind a truly historic policy change that has bipartisan backing and significant public support,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a drug policy reform group.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance in the United States, and the trend of states bucking prohibition in favor of legal regulation of the plant reflects a broad cultural shift toward greater acceptance of marijuana. National support for the legalization of the drug has risen dramatically in recent years, recently reaching historic highs in multiple polls. And states like Colorado, the first to establish a regulated adult-use marijuana marketplace, have seen successes that have debunked some lawmakers’ and law enforcers’ predictions that such policies would result in disaster

“President Trump’s statement of likely support for the STATES Act shows how truly mainstream federal marijuana reform has become,” said Michael Liszewski, policy advisor at Drug Policy Alliance. “To have a bill introduced by two prominent members of both political parties that would allow states to set their own marijuana laws and less than 24 hours later have the president say he’s more than open to the proposal means that we are closer than ever to passing meaningful marijuana reform at the federal level.”

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