State officials should be wary of news that President Donald Trump has agreed to support states’ systems of legalized marijuana.
President Donald Trump’s vow that he will not interfere with Colorado’s pot industry is welcome news for all states that have legalized marijuana, including Washington.
Yet state officials are wise to view this new development with caution. Sadly, it’s too soon to tell what Trump’s pledge really means. Will he stay the course in reversing the stricter approach to pot enforcement that Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in January?
So far, Sessions and his Department of Justice have declined to comment on Trump’s statements to Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, in which he said he will support states’ rights to regulate pot. To get Gardner to stop blocking Justice Department nominees, the president said he also will support a congressional solution to protect states’ marijuana markets.
If you’re experiencing — again — a bit of executive-branch whiplash, you’re not alone. The president’s latest promise clashes with Sessions’ decision earlier this year to rescind the Obama-era guidance that allowed state-sanctioned marijuana operations to continue. Sessions’ actions gave U.S. attorneys more discretion to prosecute marijuana cases, even in states that have legalized it.
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While 29 states have approved cannabis for recreational or medical use, it remains banned under federal law.
DOJ officials would not answer questions this week about how the department’s marijuana enforcement protocol might change in light of the president’s statements. The Justice Department reportedly was not consulted about Trump’s agreement with Gardner.
That alone is a reason to hold the applause. The lack of coordination once again calls into question the seriousness of the president’s commitment to allow states to decide the issue.
During his 2016 campaign, Trump said he supported states’ rights to legalize marijuana. But he stood idly by a few months ago when Sessions revoked the prior administration’s hands-off policies — a shift the Justice Department trumpeted as “a return to the rule of law.”
If Gardner has succeeded in forcing Trump to challenge Sessions’ misguided war on marijuana, it will be a win for Washington and the other states that have voted for some form of legalization. Recent studies have found that states that allow access to marijuana have lower rates of opioid
prescriptions, as well as lower crime rates.
Congress should not allow Trump’s assurances to be the only thing protecting such states from federal prosecution. It should pass a law preventing federal interference in states’ legal marijuana markets, or better, legalize cannabis altogether.
Such an action would give states the certainty they deserve, irrespective of Sessions’ stance or whether Trump goes back on his word.