Last week, a report exposed a secret Trump administration committee that’s working to dig up data showing that marijuana legalization is bad, while ignoring evidence showing the opposite.
But this is 2018 and, for some, it’s going to take more than primary source documents and on-the-record statements to accept the veracity of a piece of journalism. For some Trump supporters who back cannabis reform, the BuzzFeed News report just didn’t add up.
At least two high-profile conservatives in the Trump orbit have called the “Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee” into question: former Trump adviser Roger Stone and cartoonist/provocateur Scott Adams.
Asked about the report, Stone initially told Marijuana Moment via text message that the administration effort to produce data casting cannabis in a negative light was the “handiwork” of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. But the next day, Stone sent a follow up text.
“Despite a very substantial effort on my part I have been entirely unable to confirm that anything in this BuzzFeed story is accurate or true,” he said.
BuzzFeed News reporter Dominic Holden, who broke the story, brushed off the denial. “Roger Stone is contradicting himself here, simultaneously saying he knew who started the committee and then saying he doesn’t know what’s going on,” he told Marijuana Moment.
“The reality is, the documents and emails speak for themselves. The records reveal the committee’s timeline and agenda, and federal workers have acknowledged the committee’s work is underway. Not a single federal official has denied any aspect of the reporting.”
Not everyone is flat-out denying the BuzzFeed News report, though. Some, like Adams, think this is actually part of a brilliant effort on the part of the president to embarrass Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a staunch prohibitionist and frequent target of Trump’s scorn.
During a Periscope session last week, Adams outlined a very intricate theory about why Trump would sign off on the anti-marijuana committee. Basically, it’s a plot to get Sessions fired without facing backlash from opponents, he said.
The idea here is that Trump’s hands are tied when it comes to Sessions; he wants him out, but if he fires the attorney general in the current political climate, Trump will further ignite charges of obstruction of justice and calls for his impeachment. But if he were to allow Sessions to go after cannabis, that’d give Trump the political leeway to fire him over an issue that’d satisfy both his base and liberals.
“Have you connected the dots yet?”
A handful of Twitter users also raised questions about the BuzzFeed News report, with some putting forth their own theories about Trump’s motivations for the committee.
The skeptic in me thinks Trump’s sudden disdain and attack on Marijuana is either because he is trying to convince Sessions to do what he wants concerning Mueller, or Sessions has agreed to do what he wants if Trump goes after pot for him. #Trump 🚫🍊🐂💩 #sessions pic.twitter.com/naOsTpn5K8
— Jerad Finck (@jeradfinck) August 30, 2018
Trump said just a few months ago that he'd sign a bill legalizing marijuana as soon as it hit his desk. I don't believe this.
— Eamon Parks (@CalebParks45640) August 30, 2018
1 of 3. Inside Trump Admin. Secret War On Weed #SmartNews – Legal weed eliminates trafficking, provides addtl. taxes, lightens case load. Trump’s war on weed makes no sense. What’s the interest 4keeping illegal traffic, cartels’ profits & enforcement he can’t win?
— alfromct (@alfromct) September 2, 2018
2 of 3. However, there is one aspect of marijuana trade which is highly profitable right now. According to ACLU, annual weed arrests account for more than half of all drug arrests in US. This is abt ‘private prisons.’ Is Trump looking to proxy-invest in private prisons?
— alfromct (@alfromct) September 2, 2018
At the core of the debate seems to be an unwillingness on the part of pro-legalization Trump supporters to accept that the president might not be as marijuana friendly as they believed him to be, or that he could change his mind at the drop of a hat.
Even a key staffer for Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) raised suspicions about the veracity of the BuzzFeed News report, referring in a statement to “storylines going around about how staff are trying to manipulate the President or to work around his firmly-held policy positions” and including the phrase “regardless of the accuracy of the story.”
Of course it’s true that Trump said he supports medical marijuana, and he did tentatively back legislation introduced by Gardner, which would protect legal cannabis states from federal intervention. But while those positions don’t appear consistent with the committee’s reported goals, even the White House isn’t denying that’s the committee is real and active.
“Trump’s most die-hard supporters struggle when it turns out the president’s position is mushy or that it conflicts with their saintly portrait of him,” Holden said. “At this point, we don’t know how much of this committee’s work is happening with the president’s blessing or if it’s essentially a lobbying effort within the government to win Trump’s endorsement of an anti-pot crackdown.”
“But here’s what we do know: This committee’s work is underway and the president could stop it if he wanted to, but he hasn’t.”
Photo courtesy of Michael Vadon.
Colorado Governor Touts Marijuana Legalization’s Benefits
After the 2012 election, which saw Colorado become the first state to legalize marijuana, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said he probably would have reversed the vote if he had a magic wand.
But with the perspective of a few years post-legalization, today he says he’d put that wand “back in the drawer.”
“I’m not quite there to say this is a great success, but the old system was awful,” Hickenlooper said at a forum hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago on Wednesday.
What’s more, “the things that we most feared—a spike in teenage consumption, a spike in overall consumption, people driving while high—we haven’t seen them,” he said.
“We had a little increase in teenage consumption, but then it went down. We do think that some of the teenage consumers are using it a little more frequently than they were five years ago before legalization. We have in many ways seen no demographic where there’s an increase in consumption, with one exception: senior citizens. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.”
Hickenlooper, who’s been floated as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, described the challenges his administration faced when Colorado voters approved an adult-use legalization measure. Elected officials and advisors were opposed to it, he said, and plus, “it’s no fun to be in conflict with federal law.”
But he pushed forward with implementation, recruiting the “smartest people” he could find to figure out the best approach to regulation and taxation. And Illinois, which recently elected pro-legalization J.B. Pritzker for governor, will likely be better off if they pursue reform because they can learn from the successes and failures of Colorado’s system, Hickenlooper said.
“Ultimately, I haven’t come to a final conclusion yet, but I think it’s looking like this is going to be—for all of the flaws and challenges we have—a better system than what we had. You guys are going to benefit, I think, having let us make a bunch of the mistakes and deal with it, I think you’re going to be able to have a much better system if indeed that is the direction that the state wants to go.”
Asked what advice he’d give to Pritzker if Illinois does elect to fully legalize cannabis, Hickenlooper offered three tips: 1) don’t overtax marijuana, or else the illicit marketplace will persist, 2) get data from law enforcement on the presence of cannabis metabolites in the blood after highway fatalities to establish “good baselines” for comparison and 3) set limits on THC concentrations in edibles.
“What they’re selling now, they tell me it’s 10-to-12 times more intense than what allegedly I smoked in high school,” Hickenlooper said, pausing before conceding, “I smoked pot in high school and I inhaled, but it was a fraction of the intensity of what these kids are getting now.”
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Economic Club of Chicago.
The DEA Just Got Scolded Over Its Marijuana Eradication Program
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) got a slap on the wrist from a federal watchdog agency over its management of a multi-million dollar marijuana eradication program.
In a report released on Wednesday, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the DEA had failed to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners that received funds through the federal program. And that lapse could prevent the agency from being able to accurately assess “program performance.”
What’s more, the DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals,” according to the report.
In other words, the agency expends about $17 million in funds to partners across the U.S. each year to help them get rid of illegal cannabis grows. That includes fully legal states like California, where enforcement efforts are generally limited to public lands—namely national forests. But due to inadequate record keeping, the DEA doesn’t really know if that money is serving its purpose.
To fix the problems, the GAO issued four recommendations:
1. The DEA Administrator should develop and implement a plan with specific actions and time frames to ensure that regional contractors are implementing DEA’s requirement for collecting documentation supporting participating agencies’ Domestic Cannabis Eradication And Suppression Program (DCE/SP) program expenditures in the intended manner.
2. The DEA Administrator should clarify DCE/SP guidance on the eradication and suppression activities that participating agencies are required to report, and communicate it to participating agencies and DEA officials responsible for implementing DCE/SP.
3. The DEA Administrator should clearly document all DCE/SP program goals.
4. The DEA Administrator should develop DCE/SP performance measures with baselines, targets, and linkage to program goals.
The DEA was able to review a draft of the GAO report ahead of its release and, in an October 17 letter, a Justice Department official said the agency concurred with all four of the recommendations and would take steps to address them.
You can listen to a podcast about the GAO report here:
Just because it’s the DEA’s program doesn’t mean it’s the only agency dropping the ball on marijuana eradication efforts. In April, a report from the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that agents weren’t adequately cleaning up public lands after cannabis busts, which can pose threats to humans, animals and the environment.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Here’s How Much Legal Marijuana Supporters And Opponents Spent Per Vote In Last Week’s Election
Political committees concerned with marijuana law reform in four states have waged an information war over the past year, first to qualify cannabis initiatives for the ballot, and then to support or oppose those measures in the lead-up to last week’s midterm elections. In total, over $12.9 million in cash and in-kind services was spent attempting to convince voters about these marijuana ballot measures.
Now that voters have had their say, Marijuana Moment decided to calculate how much each “yes” and “no” vote cost the committees on either side of the debate. Our calculations are based on dollars raised and disclosed before the election, since final totals of actual expenditures won’t be available until December or January reports required in the states that voted on cannabis.
In Michigan, where voters approved marijuana legalization, our calculations show that the two anti-legalization committees spent about $1.28 per “no” vote, as they raised $2.37 million for the 1.85 million votes against the measure. The proponents spent 19 percent more per vote, or $1.52 for each of 2.35 million “yes” votes.
In Missouri, three separate medical cannabis initiatives competed in the run-up to Election Day, resulting in the highest funding levels of the four states we looked at. There, committees raised a total of $5.4 million dollars to influence voters. Across all the committees, the average cost per “yes” vote was $1.82.
Amendment 3, which was supported by Find the Cures PAC, spent $2.91 for each of its 747,977 votes. Proposition C, supported by Missourians for Patient Care, spent $1.44 for each of its 1.03 million votes. New Approach Missouri, which supported winning Amendment 2, which garnered the support of 1.57 million voters, spent the least, at $1.10 per vote. Only Amendment 2 received a majority and was approved.
Given that there were three competing measures on the ballot, vote costs cannot be parsed in the same binary “yes” or “no” on marijuana reform that is possible for initiatives in the other states. A “no” vote for one measure in Missouri was often paired with a “yes” vote for another.
In North Dakota, there were many fewer votes cast on the state’s marijuana legalization initiative as compared to cannabis measure elsewhere, a total of 324,550. The two committees that opposed Measure 3 heavily outspent the pro-reform committees, to the tune of $629,648 to $94,308. With 131,585 people voting for the initiative, the cost per “yes” vote was 72 cents. On the opposing side, winning came at a high price: Each “no” vote cost four and a half times as much, or $3.26, the most costly per-vote expense on a marijuana ballot measure in the nation this year.
In Utah, a relatively state where proponents of medical cannabis measure Proposition 2 were narrowly outspent by opponents, the cost per vote was higher. Votes are still being counted more than a week after Election Day, but preliminary vote totals show opponents spent $908,464, or $1.99 for each of the 455,879 votes against the initiative. The prevailing “yes” committees spent $831,471 for 493,060 votes, or $1.69 each. About 8 percent of precincts are yet to be counted, so both of these figures will decrease as more votes are added to both the support and opposition tallies.
Overall in the three states that had a straight up-or-down vote (Michigan, Utah and North Dakota), the average cost per “no” vote was slightly more than each “yes” vote, with prohibitionist committees spending an average of $1.56 for each “no” vote, versus $1.51 spent on average for each “yes” votes. It should be noted that those costs include millions of dollars in in-kind services. In Michigan, for example, The Coalition to Regulate Cannabis like Alcohol reported $706,900 in in-kind services, or 23 percent of their total fundraising.
Looked at another way, the average per state cost (rather than total votes average) for “yes” votes was $1.31 while “no” votes cost 67 percent more: $2.18. And with the total number of “yes” votes in those states outnumbering “no” votes by 19 percent, it would seem that in the state-by-state marijuana legalization battle, you don’t always get what you pay for.