A bipartisan group of lawmakers fear there are top White House officials actively working to undermine President Trump’s own marijuana policy — a cannabis deep state, of sorts. On the campaign trail back in 2016, Trump advocated allowing each state to craft their own pot policies, and he’s reiterated as much since entering the Oval Office. But that’s not how policy is shaping up.
This week, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) confirmed a report by Buzzfeed that there’s a committee inside the White House devoted to marijuana policy. While they finally admitted the committee exists, they stopped short of confirming that the panel was seeking only to only spread negative information on marijuana to combat the groundswell of support that cannabis has garnered across the nation. Even some of the president’s Republican allies are up in arms, because they say the president has endorsed their efforts to de-schedule marijuana at the federal level. Still, they continue to be stonewalled.
“Every time I speak to someone in the administration, despite what the president has said, they tell me it isn’t happening,” Rep. Tom Garrett (R-VA) tells Rolling Stone. “My question is, who is in charge over there? It borders on ridiculous. The president is right on this issue. The gatekeepers need to do their job, not undermine good policy.”
Garrett is among a growing number of Republicans who recognize that the current patchwork of disparate pot laws across the nation aren’t working, especially because the 46 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized either medicinal or recreational marijuana remain at odds with the federal government’s prohibition of the plant.
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“I’m not pro-marijuana; I’m pro-laws that are uniformly and consistently enforced. Justice that isn’t blind isn’t justice,” Garrett maintains. “That’s why we’ve proposed the complete de-federalization of marijuana policy.”
That’s why policymakers are whispering about the war on weed that they continue to see being waged from within the White House. The ONDCP’s Acting Director James Carroll recently sent a letter to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) arguing his office is only looking for “completely objective” data on marijuana, even though the White House marijuana committee had reportedly reached out to 14 agencies and the DEA for “negative trends” on pot.
“If the ONDCP is not driving the process of misrepresenting marijuana data, then it begs the question: Who is?” a senior congressional staffer familiar with the situation says to Rolling Stone. “And is there someone within the Trump administration directing a negative marijuana message?”
President Trump demands absolute loyalty from those who report to him, but he’s also known to outsource key policy areas to his cabinet and senior White House officials. And with his trade war raging, a potential blue wave coming and his Supreme Court nominee sucking all the air out of the nation’s capital of late, the president seems to be out of the loop on his own administration’s own marijuana policy. For most pot proponents, decriminalizing pot isn’t about getting high — it’s a key plank of criminal justice reform, which is why the White House civil war over the issue is enraging.
“I think it’s despicable,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) tells Rolling Stone. “To me this has always been an issue around justice — and restorative justice — and to see that there may be forces in the White House that are working against those issues of justice is just sad, frustrating, and, frankly, against the things that we stand for as a nation, which is truth and justice.”
Still, other Trump allies maintain Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the clog in the system, not rogue actors inside the White House.
“That has not been my experience,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) tells Rolling Stone. “I’ve discussed marijuana policy with senior White House officials, cabinet members and the president. My personal assessment is that the attorney general is the problem.”
That assessment of the administration’s stance on marijuana is viewed more skeptically on the other side of the aisle. The president has reportedly assured Sen. Cory Gardner in private that he backs his bill with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) that would codify his stated position that each state should craft its own marijuana policy. Other bill sponsors don’t believe the president has even landed in a firm place on the policy, so they say this internal White House dispute is to be expected.
“Trump is on all sides of issues, sometimes within a matter of minutes, so people shouldn’t be shocked,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) tells Rolling Stone. “It is an illustration of another area where the administration has an incoherent policy framework.”
In 2016 when Trump and cannabis were on the ballot in nine states, cannabis got more votes than Trump, Blumenauer points out. And now that the multi-billion dollar industry has only grown in support nationwide, even in Trump country, Blumenauer and other pot supporters say the factions in the White House who are trying to undermine efforts to normalize marijuana are actually undercutting the president on his previously stated popular, bipartisan position.
“They’re on the wrong side of history. They’re on the wrong side of their own base,” Blumenauer contends. “They have something that if they actually tried to implement something that is draconian there will be open revolt, and in a way I’d love for them to do that before the November election, they’d lose the Senate. They’d lose more seats in the House.”