He appointed an anti-marijuana zealot to be Attorney General but political realities seem to be part of his calculations.
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Earlier this month, President Donald Trump told reporters he would “probably” support federal legislation that officially turns the issue of marijuana legalization over to the states. The key word is “probably.”
As it stands now, while 30 states have legalized marijuana for medical or adult use, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level. Legislation backed a bipartisan coalition in Congress has been introduced to allow states to go forward with legalization with no risk of interference from federal prosecution.
“We’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes,” Trump told reporters.
That one statement has given rise to hopes among marijuana entrepreneurs and consumers that the pathway will be cleared for legal use of marijuana without concern about federal interference. It also flies in the face of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ anti-marijuana stance, who lobbied Congress to reduce current protections for medical marijuana.
But will Trump follow through on his support?
What the legislation would do.
The main factor that could lead to Trump’s support — at least on political grounds — is that the bill supports states’ rights. Trump has advocated states’ rights before.
The bill would essentially make it federal policy that states can make their own decisions on marijuana. As explained by Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who introduced the bill: “Our bill does not legalize marijuana. Instead, it allows the principle of federalism to prevail as the founding fathers intended and leaves the marijuana question up to the states.”
One of the most important aspects of the bill is that it would clear the way for banks to offer financial services to businesses operating in the marijuana industry.
This has been an ongoing issue. With marijuana illegal at the federal level, banks have refused to offer banking services to the cannabis industry in fear of violating federal law. That’s left many cannabis businesses dealing with cash and the emergence of alternatives such as cryptocurrency.
Of course, many won't trust Trump's support until he actually signs the bill. Among those are writer Matthew Rozsa, who has autism and has seen the benefits of medical marijuana in treating it, but also has seen political support fade on the issue.
So why the doubt about Trump’s follow through on the issue? The reasons include (at least) the following.
- Trump’s past. Trump has done plenty of flip-flopping on other issues, from the meeting with North Korea and the value of NATO to whether he would play golf as president.
- It’s a win for Democrats. Backing legislation that is seen as a win for the Democrats is not something Trump has supported in the past.
- The bill’s co-sponsor. The bill is being introduced by Gardner. But his partner on the bill is liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who Trump has mockingly called “Pocahontas.”
- It defies his own attorney general. Although, given the often antagonistic relationship between Trump and Sessions, this could be a good thing for bill supporters.
There’s also the fact that many leading Republicans may oppose the bill. That includes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has refused to support similar legislation in the past (though he is an enthusiastic supporter of hemp as an industrial crop).
As with so many issues involving Trump, the outcome on the marijuana bill is unpredictable. But, at least for now, he’s given cannabis legalization supporters some hope that changes are coming at the federal level.