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Alleged Trump Marijuana Promise At Center Of Feud Between White House Aide, Reporter And GOP Operatives



President Donald Trump’s stance on marijuana legalization became the jumping off point for a spat between a top White House aide, Republican operatives and a reporter on Thursday after Chief of Staff Mark Meadows laughed off a question about the prospects of broad cannabis reform advancing before the election in November.

But the controversy wasn’t solely about the administration’s position on legalization; rather the dispute centered on how freelance reporter Matt Laslo characterized the conversation on Twitter, where he said that Meadows suggested pro-cannabis reform Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) “has been misleading voters on marijuana” and that “Trump has no plan to lift a finger on cannabis legalization or even normalization.”

Laslo also shared audio from the interview and wrote that it showed Meadows “mockingly laugh when I ask if Trump plans to carry through on his promise to [Gardner] to relax federal marijuana laws.”

There’s some nuance to note. Trump and Gardner have discussed cannabis policy, the senator told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview—specifically his bill titled the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which would allow states to set their own marijuana laws without federal intervention but would not federally deschedule, or legalize, cannabis. The president said in 2018 that he “really” supports the legislation.

But it isn’t clear that there has been an explicit “promise” on Trump’s part to actively push for the bill’s passage prior to November, though Laslo told Marijuana Moment that Gardner made clear in a Playboy interview the reporter did with the senator that he was under the impression it was, indeed, a pledge.

In any case, Meadows’s reaction to the question raises questions about if the administration is taking potential marijuana reform legislation seriously at all, whether through legalization or by simply protecting states’ rights.

That might not come as a particularly big surprise—especially considering that Meadows himself is a staunch opponent of cannabis legalization who consistently voted against reform amendments as a House member and that the administration has made other anti-marijuana hires.

But what is interesting is how White House Senior Communications Advisor Ben Williamson and other top GOP officials responded to Laslo’s tweets.

“Mark Meadows did not say Senator Gardner was misleading on anything—this is a blatant mischaracterization,” he said.

“He wasn’t laughing at Cory Gardner. He was laughing at getting a marijuana question out of left field from you,” he added. “So you’ve now directly misquoted him and also editorialized his motives to fit a hit piece you were writing.”

For context, here’s the audio recording of the conversation with Meadows, first reported for The News Station, and a transcript of the exchange: 

Laslo: Has there been any talk about moving marijuana legalization ahead of November?

Meadows: [Laughs]

Laslo: Trump promised it to Gardner.

Meadows: [Laughs]

Laslo: Some people say that disproportionately it affects minority communities.

Meadows: I’m not aware of anything on the agenda for the Senate or the House that would move a bill in that regard. We—the White House has not weighed in on that.

The communications aide to Trump and Meadows could have opted to avoid becoming involved in a story about marijuana policy, as one might have imagined with past Republican administrations reluctant to touch the issue. He also could have taken the opportunity to confirm that legalization wasn’t happening before November, or clarified that the president, in fact, does not support that policy change.

Instead, Williamson engaged in a back-and-forth to defend Meadows without dismissing marijuana reform—perhaps a sign of the political times given that a majority of voters across party lines now favor legalization. It could also be that the White House is sensitive to criticism of Gardner, who is in the midst of a reelection campaign in which polls show him trailing, and so they don’t want to create the appearance that a promise between him and Trump went unfulfilled, even if that promise was cannabis-related.

It’s also the case that the Trump reelection campaign is pushing a narrative that the president is the criminal justice reform candidate heading into November. While the Trump team hasn’t pushed for legalization, it has broadly criticized presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden as an “architect” of the war on drugs. Coming out against cannabis reform wouldn’t necessarily serve the image the campaign is trying to project for Trump.

From Laslo’s perspective, “it’s 100 percent [about] Gardner.”

“Even if you remember back in 2016, the first time Trump even teased the issue was in Colorado,” he said. “Trump knows his audience and the GOP knows their audience, and the party desperately needs Cory Gardner to win reelection if they want to maintain the Senate. I don’t think the president’s position even matters in this equation.”

For what it’s worth, Meadows can’t plead ignorance on cannabis issues, Marijuana Policy Project’s Don Murphy told Marijuana Moment.

“There’s no way he’s unaware. There’s just no way. I have talked to Mark Meadows dozens of times about this issue. We have had real conversations,” Murphy said. “I can’t imagine that he doesn’t know. Meadows has been around long enough to know that the president does what the president does.”

“I see a lot of positives in this dust up,” he added. “It did create some interest in the topic.”

Other Republican operatives also seized on Lalso’s characterization of the Gardner component of the interview.

“I listened to the audio and this tweet is a complete lie. Nowhere in this does Meadows say that Gardner is misleading people on marijuana,” Joe Jackson, communications director for the Colorado GOP, said. “You should delete this.”

After the reporter threatened to release a further off-the-record conversation with the White House chief of staff that he said involved talk of marijuana in order to defend his reputation, a senior advisor for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) said, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.”

“You wouldn’t have to defend your name if you just deleted your dishonest tweet,” he said. “The story is fine. But you invented an exchange that didn’t happen, and I’d never let any member I work for talk to you again after that.”

“Misrepresenting what someone said and threatening to release off the record convos? All this from a ‘j-school professor’?” NRSC Communications Director Jesse Hunt added. “Do the right thing and delete the tweet.”

Laslo clarified to Marijuana Moment that while Meadows requested that the conversation be off-the-record, that was never agreed to.

“Do the right thing & read the article,” Laslo responded. “But I get this comms strategy – distract, distort, contort and rev up the base with barbs against ‘the enemy.’ I get it, but it’s tired.”

“Look in the mirror lately? The truth is a beautiful thing,” he tweeted. Seek and ye shall find; unless you like lies.”

“What I saw last night was so disgusting. They just did these ad hominem attacks at me as a person that were completely unfounded,” Laslo told Marijuana Moment. “I have a 14-year-record as a congressional correspondent, where I’m respected by top Republican leaders. I’ve got Mark Meadow’s cell phone number because he trusts me.”

Bernie Sanders Calls For Marijuana Legalization In Senate Floor Speech On Policing Reform

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.


Connecticut Governor Says He’s Open To Smoking Marijuana After He Signs Legalization Bill



The governor of Connecticut said on Friday that he isn’t ruling out smoking marijuana after he formally signs a legalization bill into law next week.

While most top politicians might still demure when asked if they’d partake in cannabis given ongoing stigma and federal prohibition, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said matter-of-factly that “time will tell” when asked by a reporter if people can “expect to see the governor smoking a joint” after legalization goes into effect in the state.

News 12’s John Craven replied incredulously, “Really? You’re open to it?”

The governor first shrugged, then nodded his head yes.

“Not right now, but we’ll see” Lamont said.

Other governors in legal states have been playful about cannabis culture and their own relationship to the plant. But while a growing number of lawmakers are comfortable discussing their past marijuana use, this is a fairly remarkable exchange for the sitting top executive officer of a state.

It’s also a sign of the times, as congressional lawmakers step up the push to end federal prohibition and legalization bills move through numerous state legislatures.

Connecticut lawmakers sent Lamont an adult-use legalization bill on Thursday, and he’s confirmed his intent to sign it into law. It would make the state the 19th to have enacted the policy change and the fourth this year alone.

And while the governor has consistently emphasized the important of social equity in legalization legislation—at one point threatening to veto the bill because of a provision he felt could undermine its intent to effectively stand up disparately impacted communities—he also seems to see the personal benefits of the reform.

Similar to Lamont’s new comments, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) raised some eyebrows in 2018 when he said in an interview that he grows cannabis himself. But then a spokesperson for his office denied that he actually personally cultivates marijuana.

Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says

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Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says



Even though a Minnesota House-passed marijuana legalization bill died in the Senate without action by the end of this year’s regular session, a top lawmaker says there’s still a “possibility to move forward” on cannabis reform as part of a special session that began this week.

“Nobody really expected the medical program to be so successfully changed this year,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) said at a rally with cannabis reform advocates on Wednesday, referencing a separate measure Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed last month that will allow patients to access smokable cannabis products.

According to The Star Tribune, Winkler added that “surprising things can happen” during a special session. “When you see Republican support and Democratic support in the House and Senate, there is a possibility to move forward.”

Advocates with Minnesota NORML are pushing for several specific policies to be incorporated into legislation that is set to be taken up by the legislature during the special session. The first is to expand the state’s decriminalization policy, and the second is to have the state petition for a federal exemption for Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.

Part of the motivation behind that latter proposal is to ensure that registered patients are able to lawfully purchase and possess firearms in spite of federal restrictions.

At the rally, which was organized by NORML, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) and other groups, Winkler and several other lawmakers spoke in favor of modest policy changes such as decriminalizing cannabis.

“Decriminalizing small amounts is important,” Rep. Jeremy Munson (R), one of only a handful of Republicans who voted for Winkler’s broad adult-use legalization bill, said at the rally. “If someone in Minnesota gets caught with two gummy bears, it’s a felony and they’ll lose their gun rights forever.”

The coalition proposed several key reforms that they say should be integrated into public safety and health legislation that’s currently moving through committee during the special session:

-Further reduce penalties for simple possession of marijuana.

-Allow people convicted of possession up to eight grams of cannabis to petition the courts for expungement.

-Require the Minnesota health commissioner to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for an exemption for its medical marijuana program.

”Reducing or eliminating the criminal penalties we’re seeing around marijuana is where we have consensus,” Thomas Gallagher of RAMP said in a press release. “Let’s focus on the people who have small quantities. There is injustice in a trivial amount of marijuana resulting in life-changing punishments like imprisonment, criminal records, and lost jobs and kids.”

Similar to the Minnesota activists’ call, Iowa officials have requested that federal agencies guarantee some level of protection for people participating in the state’s medical marijuana program.

The Hawaii legislature adopted a resolution in April seeking an exemption from DEA stipulating that the state is permitted to run its medical cannabis program without federal interference.

Back in Minnesota, the House approved a bill last month to legalize marijuana for recreational use following 12 committee assignments. That legislation stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, however.

Advocates are hopeful about the possibility that further cannabis reforms could be accomplished in the special session, but they see an obstacle in Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), who has been relatively silent on the issue since the end of the regular session.

He did previously say, however, that “we’re always said we were open to lowering the criminal penalties [for marijuana].”

The decriminalization legislation that advocates are rallying behind would make possession of up to eight grams of cannabis a petty misdemeanor. It would also make people with prior convictions for that level of possession eligible for expungements.

Under the separate medical cannabis expansion bill that the governor has signed, adults 21 and older will be able to access smokable marijuana products. That policy must take effect by March 1, 2022, or earlier if rules are developed and the state’s cannabis commissioner authorizes it.

Dispensaries could also provide a curbside pickup option for patients under the new law. It further removes restrictions for designated caregivers and allows them to tend to six registered patients at once, rather than just one.

Walz, who hadn’t been especially vocal about legalization as the broader legislation advanced during the regulator session, said, “I’ve thought for a long time about that,” adding that “we know that adults can make their own decisions on things, we know that criminalization and prohibition has not worked.”

“I’ve always thought that it makes sense to control how you’re doing this and to make sure that adults know what they’re getting into, and use it wisely,” he said. “I also think there’s a lot of inequity about how folks have spent time in jail or been arrested around this, especially in communities of color.”

The majority leader’s legalization legislation as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Under the measure, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.

Walz in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

The governor did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.

In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.

California Senator Previews Next Steps For Psychedelics Bill And Says It’s A Step Toward Decriminalizing All Drugs

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Maine Lawmakers Approve Bill To Decriminalize All Drugs On 50th Anniversary Of Nixon’s ‘War On Drugs’



The Maine House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs, delivering a victory to reform advocates on the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs.

The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday, but has not yet taken a vote.

The proposal, LD 967, was approved in 77-62 vote in the House. It would make possession of controlled substances for personal use punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of incarceration. That fine could also be waived if a person completes a substance misuse assessment within 45 days of being cited.

“We are continually trying to criminalize a symptom of a disease. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work,” Rep. Charlotte Warren (D), who serves as the House chair of the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said before the vote. “We have tried criminalizing this disease for decades, and 11 Mainers a week are dying.”

Rep. Anne Perry (D), sponsor of the bill, said that incarcerating people who are suffering from addiction “only proves to them that they are as bad as they think they are” and perpetuates the cycle of substance misuse. “Law enforcement is not the gateway to treatment and recovery. It’s a gateway to isolation and suicide.”

The measure’s passage flies in the face of Gov. Janet Mills (D), whose administration opposes the reform, as does the state attorney general. Coupled with opposition from Republican legislators, the bill faces an uphill battle to final passage.

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday night, adopting a different committee report than the House approved, but setting it aside as unfinished business before taking a final vote on the bill. The version moving forward in that chamber would similarly impose a $100 fine for possession, but only for the first two offenses. Subsequent offenses would be considered Class E crimes that could carry jail time.

These actions come one month after a joint House and Senate committee advanced the decriminalization bill with several conflicting recommendations, as well as another measure to reform the state’s drug trafficking laws.

Supporters of the legislation include the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Maine Chapter, Maine Medical Association, Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine and Maine Council of Churches.

Thursday’s decriminalization vote represents a continuation of a national conversation about the need to reform laws criminalizing people over drugs and treat substance misuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter.

For the first time ever, a congressional bill to federally decriminalize possession of controlled substances—and incentivize states to do the same—was formally introduced on Thursday.

Last year, Oregon voters elected to end criminalization of low-level drug possession at the ballot.

Vermont lawmakers also introduced a bill in March that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs in the state.

Also that month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on decriminalization legislation to replace criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs with a $100 fine.

Back in Maine, a bill was recently introduced that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes.

Senators Publicly Pressure Key Chairman For Vote On Marijuana Banking Bill

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