The Trump Administration has put together a secret group of federal bureaucrats known as the Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee charged with producing reefer madness-style arguments in an attempt to undermine the push at the state level toward legalization, according to explosive documents leaked last week by BuzzFeed.
With administration prohibitionists convinced that marijuana messaging is slipping out of their hands, the Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee represents a desperate push to turn around public attitudes — even as 30 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to legalize medical or recreational marijuana.
“There is an urgent need to message the facts about the negative impacts of marijuana,” said a internal memo that BuzzFeed was able to obtain. “Staff believe that if the administration is to turn the tide on increasing marijuana use there is an urgent need to message the facts about the negative impacts of marijuana use, production, and trafficking on national health, safety, and security,”
The group has representatives from 14 federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and the State Department. The reported purpose behind gathering anti-marijuana data points was to brief for Trump “on marijuana threats.”
The reports suggest the Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee would not aim to gather objective information about the impact of marijuana legalization on the public, but rather data that will confirm their prohibitionist bias.
Prohibition’s Sinking Ship
Justin Strekal, the Political Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told the Stash the federal government’s anti-cannabis crusade meant to “undermine public opinion through false propaganda” stands as evidence “to how far we’ve come toward marijuana prohibition.”
“With militant prohibitionists like [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions sneaking around in the Trump administration, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing this happen but it is still unsettling,” said Strekal in a phone conversation. “Those who seek to maintain the oppressive policies of cannabis criminalization are grasping at straws in their effort to undo the public policy progresses that have now been enacted in a majority of states, and that are widely supported by voters of both major political parties.”
Currently, over 60% of Americans think marijuana should be legal, according to a January 2018 poll by the Pew Research Center. Overall research on legal cannabis has suggested that legalization has had a positive impact on federal and state-level healthcare, criminal justice, and economic growth.
Strekal said that even though we may be on the cusp of ending prohibition, “it’s even more important than ever to remain vigilant, keep pushing for reform” because “the prohibition-proponents are not going to go quietly into the night.”
When Trump first took office in 2017, the legal cannabis industry initially feared of a strong federal crackdown after he named outspoken prohibitionist Jeff Sessions to head the Department of Justice as Attorney General. While the feared crackdown against the industry never fully materialized, Sessions has not been a friend to the marijuana industry, even going so far as to say “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Under the Obama administration, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole issued a memo in 2013 that protected states that had legalized marijuana by limiting federal prosecutors from enacting criminal drug law in certain situations. In January, however, Sessions rescinded the Cole memo.
Facing fire from pro-marijuana members of Congress including Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), however, Trump split with Sessions. In April, Trump publicly expressed support for the STATES Act, which is bipartisan legislation that would protect states’ rights to legalize the adult use and sale of marijuana. The proposed legislation is sponsored by Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), among others, and is endorsed by NORML and other anti-prohibition activist groups.
“I support Sen. Gardner,” Trump told reporters when questioned about the STATES Act in June. “I know exactly what he’s doing. We’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”
Strekal argued that the STATES Act was a step in the right direction, but one that leaves many issues unresolved because it doesn’t address directly descheduling and decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level.
“The STATES Act is more of a band aid for serious, unresolved issues,” said Strekal. “It would leave issues such as banking and taxation to be settled in the courts rather than a clean rescheduling that would more directly address the problem.”
U.S. Representative Jared Polis, who has been endorsed by NORML in his bid for the Colorado governorship, criticized the Trump Administration’s lack of clarity on federal marijuana policy after the release of the Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee documents.
“President Trump is flailing on marijuana policy, sometimes saying the states should decide, while also allowing the Attorney General and other prohibition supporters in his purview to run amok,” said Polis in a statement. “If the White House is actually spreading misinformation about marijuana to undercut states’ rights, it’s appalling, but not out of the ordinary for President Trump and his gang of prohibition supporters.”
What’s up with Trump and his cannabis contradictions?
For anyone who is halfway paying attention to the Trump administration’s trajectory, this lack of policy direction is nothing new. Trump’s former chief-of-staff Reince Priebus is quoted in veteran Washington journalist’s new book “Fear,” describing the chaos in the White House:
“When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody. That’s what happens.”
Recently, the New York Times published an op-ed by an anonymous senior official from within the White House. The op-ed describes an active campaign by members of the White House administration to pursue a "two-track Presidency." This means that the president is likely not in control of the administration, and it could help to explain contradictory directives on marijuana policy.
At the same time, journalist and Oregon NORML board member Angela Bacca argued that this apparent chaos surrounding cannabis legalization, combined with an impending federal crackdown of West Coast marijuana growers, benefits Wall Street investors, some of whom have connections to the Trump campaign.
Bacca claimed that while a federal crackdown on out-of-state marijuana flows caused in part by a supply glut knocks out traditional growers, that the Wall Street investors with powerful connections are channeling their money through Canadian companies as they attempt to corner the market before legalization can be pushed through at the federal level.
Whatever this latest leaks on potential marijuana policies from the Trump administration mean — whether it’s an unintended blunder from an out-of-control administration or a nefarious plan devised to help the rich — it will remain important for individuals who support cannabis reform to keep organized and not let up the pressure until the fight is over.