Donald Trump is wildly inconsistent in his speech and statements but there is one thing you can always count on. If there is a really dumb and retrogressive policy that will have terrible unintended consequences, it will likely have his strongest support.
We have, in previous posts, discussed the pervasive national trend to legalize pot for medical use and also the move of several states to legalize it for recreational purposes.
Pot is not perfectly safe – no drug is – but it is orders of magnitude safer than a whole assortment of legal substances (like opioid prescription drugs, alcohol, and benzodiazepines) and illegal substances (synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine).
States that legalize pot quickly see a benefit – the marked reduction of overdose deaths from other drugs, particularly the opioids. And it has never before been more dangerous to take a street drug. The frequent secret spiking with super-potent synthetic opioids makes every trip a game of Russian roulette.
Along Comes President Trump
The people of America have spoken. Almost always when it comes up for a vote, a healthy majority prefer reduced restrictions on pot use. But Trump is less man of the people, more an opportunist. He has never personally felt the need to be strict on pot but was raised to the presidency by pot puritan ideologues and it is now payback time. The people closest to Trump are about as anti-pot as anyone can possibly be.
Support for marijuana legalization reached an all-time high in 2016. Sixty percent of Americans surveyed by the Gallup Poll last year said they favor outright legalization, up from 35% in 2005. Even Republicans, who traditionally oppose legalization, seem to be coming around to the idea.
Vice-President Mike Pence, as governor, fought all efforts to reduce the draconian punishments for pot users that make Indiana a retrogressive outlier from the rest of the nation.
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General, is unashamedly an anti-pot crusader, framing his opposition in frankly moral terms: “Good people don’t smoke pot”. So what if tens of thousands die because pot is banned and more dangerous drugs substituted. The good Mr. Sessions will sleep better at night because he has accomplished his moral duty and, in the process pleased his most ideological supporters.
Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, is all over the place on pot, saying and doing whatever is most politically expedient at the moment, not what is common sense or good public health policy.
Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary announced today: “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement.” The Trump administration will be putting itself in opposition to the states taking a more permissive view of pot.
None of this is surprising. Jeff Sessions was evasive enough on the issue to sail through his Senate confirmation hearing – but his true intentions have never really been in doubt.
The current threat is restricted to recreational pot, but may be the first step in an effort to roll back momentum for legalized medical marijuana.
The current threat is restricted to recreational pot but may be the first step in an effort to roll back momentum for legalized medical marijuana.
There are many layers of cynicism at work here. First, the big winners are the drug companies and alcohol purveyors who lobby hard for strong pot restrictions in order to reduce competition for their own more addictive, more dangerous products. Drug cartels will also welcome reduced competition from legal sources.
Meanwhile, the big losers are the people forced to shift from fairly harmless pot to more dangerous drugs and the taxpayers who must make up for a big source of lost state revenue.
And it is clear that Trump is a strong believer in states’ rights whenever it is convenient for his ideological platform, but it is strongly against states’ rights when the states disagree with him. Trump is a strong libertarian on guns, but government-intrusive on pot and abortion…
Policy on pot should be a public health question with the utilitarian goal of the greatest good for the greatest number. Instead, it is treated as a misplaced moral issue and a political football.