Donald Trump And The Future Of Marijuana Legalization

By Victoria Kim 11/10/16

Will Trump and his administration finally end the war on marijuana?

Donald Trump And The Future Of Marijuana Legalization

Once upon a time, Donald Trump was anti-drug war and pro-drug law reform. In a 1990 speech he gave in Miami, the real estate titan said, “We’re losing badly the War on Drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.” 

At the time, Trump called U.S. drug enforcement efforts “a joke,” and said the only way to win the drug war was to legalize, and use the tax revenue to fund drug education and prevention initiatives.

The reality star turned president-elect’s views were seemingly aligned with the staunchest drug law reformers who believe drug prohibition is the source of numerous problems, including police brutality, mass incarceration, and the stigmatizing treatment of people who use drugs.  

But last year, Trump changed his position. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in June 2015, he said legalization for recreational use is “bad,” responding to a question about Colorado's growing legal cannabis industry. But as far as medical use goes, “[that’s] another thing,” he said. In February, he told Bill O’Reilly, “I know people that have serious problems … [and] it really, really does help them.”

This Election Day, cannabis for both medical and recreational use won big. Voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada approved cannabis for recreational use, while voters in Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota approved cannabis for medical use. The only state where cannabis failed on the ballot was Arizona, where voters rejected recreational cannabis. (However, medical marijuana has been legal there since 1996.)

Those who closely follow drug policy issues see this as “the beginning of the end of the war on marijuana,” with now more than one in five Americans living in states where recreational marijuana is legal, noted the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham. 

In a pre-election interview, President Obama told Bill Maher that if marijuana wins on Election Day, federal cannabis prohibition would no longer be “tenable.”

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law. The federal government defines it as having no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse.

Some drug policy reformers, like executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance Ethan Nadelmann, are concerned about what a new administration could entail. “The prospect of Donald Trump as our next president concerns me deeply,” said Nadelmann in a statement. “His most likely appointees to senior law enforcement positions—Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie—are no friends of marijuana reform, nor is his vice president.”

This could play out in stark contrast to the Obama administration’s policy of not intervening in state laws. If the Trump administration does try and reverse marijuana law reforms, “it could have a chilling effect on the willingness of states to move forward with the creation of these systems,” John Hudak, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Ingraham. 

Others aren’t so pessimistic. Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon told Ingraham that going after marijuana reform would pose “tremendous problems for the Trump administration that they don’t need.” 

Hopefully Blumenauer, an ardent supporter of marijuana law reform, is right not to be worried. As recently as October 2015 at a political rally in Nevada, Trump said marijuana policy should be left up to individual states. “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,” he said.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr