During the 2016 presidential campaigns, President Donald Trump indicated that he would stand in support of the right of states in the USA to regulate marijuana independently of Federal policies. Apparently, for the first time since then, he has repeated this promise according to the statements of Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner who says he and the president spoke about the matter.
According to Gardner, Trump assured him in a conversation that the president would give his backing to legislation that would allow individual states to legalize cannabis with no fear of interference or prosecution from federal law enforcement agencies. Trump’s only condition is that Gardner would allow nominations for unfilled positions in the Department of Justice (DOJ) to go through without opposition from him.
Back in January, Jeff Sessions, the U.S. Attorney General, reversed a DOJ policy referred to as the Cole Memo in which federal law enforcement was ordered not to prosecute legal marijuana enterprises in states where it was legalized as long as they would abide by their particular state’s laws and regulations.
Senator Gardner responded to this action by promising to hinder all DOJ nominations until he received assurance that legalized states such as his would be protected from interference by federal authorities.
On Friday, Gardner reminded the press that the president had been firmly on the side of those supporting the right of states to decide their marijuana policy, as he announced that the president had assured him that the scrapping of the Cole Memo by the DOJ would not affect the legal cannabis industry in Colorado.
The senator has been an obstacle to the confirmation of about 20 nominees to various posts in the DOJ and has treated the impasse somewhat like a hostage negotiation, as in February when he agreed to allow a few nominees to proceed forward as a show of ‘good faith’ to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Gardner’s high-spirited stance seems to have had the desired effect in the end, as he announced that he had received the assurance from the president himself that legislation at the federal level would be amended to support state-based marijuana rights. He went on to say that he would be removing all bars to DOJ nominations in the wake of receiving this guarantee.
As this is going on, there are a total of at least three separate bills currently under consideration containing proposals that would see cannabis removed from the federal list of banned substances or would otherwise see individual states given the leeway to determine their marijuana policy without federal interference. These bills include the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, the Marijuana Act, and the Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act.
After speaking to the Washington Post last Friday, the legislative affairs director in Trump’s presidential office, Marc Short, stated that the president had respect for Colorado’s right to determine its approach to marijuana independently, and that he would not like the matter to be interpreted as a sign of his caving in to Gardner’s demands. He stated that the president was not keen to reward such tactics, but that he was eager to see his team formally installed at the Department of Justice.
The recent stalemate is not the first instance of Jeff Sessions disagreeing with Donald Trump on the matter of cannabis policy. In the midst of the 2016 campaign season, Brandon Rittman, a Colorado reporter asked then-presidential hopeful Donald Trump whether he would back the federal cannabis ban in states that had independently chosen to legalize it. Trump responded by saying that he wouldn’t, adding “I think it should be up to the states.”
Some events of recent months, far removed from matters cannabis, seem to have widened the gulf between President Trump and Attorney General Sessions way beyond the marijuana legislation issue, and the president has pointedly shown his disapproval of Sessions on more than one occasion. Their less-than-private feuding has gone so far as to fuel rumors that Sessions is inching closer to being replaced. However the situation between them plays out in the end, it seems that the proponents of cannabis legislation at the state level have some added reason to be hopeful if the current indications are anything to go on.