We all know Attorney General Jeff Sessions hates marijuana, but it seems he has senior allies within the White House itself who are directing federal agencies to help them vigorously fight against state efforts to legalize marijuana — putting a number of senior administration officials in direct odds with President Trump’s own stated policy of allowing states to decide their own marijuana laws.
Yesterday, Buzzfeed dropped an explosive — and well documented — story on how, within the Trump administration, there is a Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee. According to their report, that committee has directed 14 federal agencies and the Drug Enforcement Administration to send the White House damming information on pot, even if no such information exists. So if the president has gone on record numerous times supporting an individual state’s right to choose their own marijuana policy, what gives?
“I don’t think Trump was being disingenuous when he said he supported reform. I genuinely believe that there’s a lack of control of what’s going on in the executive branch as it relates to marijuana policy,” Rep. Tom Garrett (R-VA) tells Rolling Stone. “Now people who want to use this against the president will, but the reality is the person who can oversee all of this attentively probably doesn’t exist.”
Garrett, who is retiring at the end of his term after he admitted to a struggle with alcoholism earlier this year, has been one of the more outspoken proponents of marijuana reform on Capitol Hill, even dropping a bill in the House in 2017 that would decriminalize marijuana nationally. He’s worried Trump isn’t being served well on drug policy . Garret says he’s asked senior administration officials to get behind his marijuana bill and he’s been rebuffed – even though he says the president seems to be personally aligned with his decriminalization legislation.
“It pisses me off,” Garrett says. “When I hear the president say he’s interested in reform then I change my area of emphasis – I have a finite amount of hours in the day too. So I change my area of emphasis to this one because he says he gives a damn, and then I speak with people in the administration and they say, ‘We’re not interested.’ Yeah, it frustrates me. But he should be the one who is pissed off.”
For Democrats on Capitol Hill, the alleged White House move to actively combat what the majority of states are doing on their own on marijuana is baffling.
“I just don’t understand: Why would they make this full court press on trying to stop what’s going on out there?” a flabbergasted Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) tells Rolling Stone. “What happens when you try to lie to people about marijuana? It just makes them want to use it all the more. So I’m really baffled by this.”
Pingree represents one of the 10 states most ravaged by the opioid crisis, which makes her fear the administration is wasting time and resources on a battle over weed that they’ve already lost. But she also serves on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FDA — an agency tasked with providing Americans with sound science on a variety of substances. That perch leaves her even more troubled by how the administration is reportedly fishing around for negative data on marijuana, instead of sound data.
“It feels like it fits into an unfortunate narrative about this administration believing that it’s okay to lie to get an end result that you’re trying to achieve,” Pingree added. “That’s the opposite of what we expect whether it’s out of the DEA or the FDA — we count on the federal government to provide us honest, unbiased information.”
While Pingree and others remain deeply baffled by what the administration is up to in regards to marijuana, other lawmakers aren’t.
“We’ve always been challenged, because the failed war on drugs is very deeply embedded in the federal government,” says Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who also notes that these elements were there under the Obama administration too, tells Rolling Stone. “You still have agencies that are getting in the way of thoughtful research. You’ve had zealots who have made a career out of this.”
Blumenauer, Pingree and other Democrats are now calling for investigative hearings into the Trump administration’s apparent attempt to skew the national marijuana narrative in a prohibitionist direction. But Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and his top lieutenants have tamped down most debates about marijuana erupting into public view in the 115th Congress.
That’s why Blumenauer and other pro-pot Democrats are taking the long view. Well, “long” as in another 60 or so days until voters cast their ballots this November.
“It’s going to take Republicans losing to be able to get to the bottom of this stuff, because the current Republican leadership has stymied it,” Blumenauer says. “It’s wrong and it’s outrageous and it’s going to have political implications.”