In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in the Nov. 8 election, marijuana legalization advocates are left with a big unanswered question:
How will the Trump Administration change federal policies on cannabis? At this point, no one knows for certain. While some voice optimism about Trump’s past statements on legalized marijuana, others have concerns about the opinions of potential cabinet members and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
The difference between the two leaves plenty of room for uncertainty.
Trump's campaign statements on marijuana.
During the campaign, Trump did not have a reputation as a candidate who issued many firm policy positions. Now that he will become the nation’s 45th president in January, people have to turn to his past statements for indications of his position on a variety of issues, including marijuana legalization.
A few past statements get the most attention.
During a campaign stop in Reno, Nevada, in October 2015. Trump said, ““In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,"
He said something similar when asked about whether he would allow the shutting down of Colorado’s recreational marijuana industry in an interview with Brandon Rittiman, a political reporter from 9News in Colorado. He again said he would prefer letting states decide on the issue.
He also said in an interview on Fox that he is in favor of medical marijuana “a 100 percent.”
Going even further back to long before he came a candidate, Trump said during the Company of the Year Awards luncheon held by the Miami Herald in April 1990 that the war on drugs is “a joke” and that drugs should become legalized. Then, he said, tax revenue from drug sales could be used to educate people about the dangers of drugs.
Incoming Trump Administration is a different story.
While some read Trump’s comments as hopeful for marijuana legalization, others look to the opinions of those around him. For example, Pence has supported tough marijuana possession penalties in Indiana.
Rudy Giuliani, another potential member of the cabinet, has opposed marijuana legalization. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, another possible cabinet choice, has been vocal in his opposition to legalized marijuana in the past.
Still, advocates have remained largely optimistic. They point to polls showing a majority of Americans now support legalized marijuana. And on the night Trump won the presidency, voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada approved legal recreational marijuana sales and possession. Voters in Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas also approved legal medical marijuana.
That brings the number of states with legalized recreational marijuana to eight, along with the District of Columbia. And the number of states with legal medical marijuana now stands at 28.
“This is clearly no longer a regional issue confined to the West Coast, but an American one," Erik Altieri, , executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told Rolling Stone magazine.
And Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, also told Rolling Stone that trying to halt states from allowing marijuana legalization runs against the Republican belief in state’s rights.
To change the federal government’s approach “you would have Donald Trump arguing that states do not have the right to do what they want, and should have to do what the federal establishment tells them," he said.
"In doing so, they would shut down countless local businesses, putting thousands of people out of work, in order to put marijuana back into the hands of Mexican drug cartels."
Like those with an interest in issues from education to immigration, marijuana advocates will have to wait Trump addresses the issue.