On Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if President Trump agrees with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind Obama-era federal guidance discouraging prosecutors from prosecuting certain marijuana cases in states where it is legal.
Sanders indicated that Trump does in fact agree with Sessions’ move to restore federal power — one that threatens to throw the country’s $20 billion legal cannabis market into chaos.
“The president believes in enforcing federal law. That would be his top priority, regardless of what the topic is, whether it’s marijuana or whether it’s immigration.” Sanders said. “The president’s position hasn’t changed, but he does strongly believe that we have to enforce federal law.”
But Sanders’ claim is false — Trump’s position has indeed changed, and in more ways than one.
During an interview with a Colorado TV station in the summer of 2016, then-candidate Trump said that as president, he would not use federal power to shut down the sale of recreational cannabis in states like Colorado.
“I wouldn’t do that, no,” Trump said, asked if he’d support the federal government intervening. “I think it’s up to the states, yeah. I’m a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.”
— Brandon Rittiman (@BrandonRittiman) July 29, 2016
Not only does Trump’s support for the DOJ’s power grab contradict his 2016 comments about thinking marijuana laws are best left “up to the states” — his decision to allow Sessions to move forward with the new policy also violates the promise he made not to interfere with states’ rights.
While a number of Republican members of Congress have already publicly criticized Sessions’ move, it’s unclear to what extent it will affect day-to-day life in states that have relaxed marijuana laws — a group that includes the entire West Coast, where marijuana can now be purchased legally at commercial storefronts from southern California all the way up to northern Washington.
During the press briefing, Sanders tried to downplay the significance of the DOJ’s policy change, which she said “simply gives prosecutors the tools to take on large-scale distributors and enforce federal law.”
That remains to be seen. But what isn’t up for debate is that Trump has flip-flopped, and that the position he’s now taking is more unpopular than the one he articulated in the summer of 2016 — a recent poll indicates 64 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, including more than half of Republicans.