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.
Senators Cite Marijuana Arrests Of U.S. Citizens In Border Patrol Oversight Request
Three senators requested a review of Border Patrol immigration checkpoint actions on Tuesday, citing a past report that found a significant number of searches and seizures were executed against U.S. citizens for low-level marijuana possession.
The request to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) outlines a number of data points concerning checkpoint enforcement that the senators say are necessary to collect in order to assess compliance with the Fourth Amendment. That includes information on rationale for checkpoint stops, data collection and protocol for searches.
“In 2017, the GAO published a report that looked at, among other things, the Border Patrol strategy of placing and utilizing immigration checkpoints generally between 25 and 100 miles from the border,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote in a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. “As a result of this review, the GAO found that 40 percent of checkpoint seizures were from U.S. citizens for one ounce or less of marijuana.”
Though the letter—which was also signed by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Gary Peters (D-MI)—didn’t specifically request information on marijuana seizures, it did inquire about the number of U.S. citizens apprehended and the reason for their arrests. It also asks, “How frequently does the agency analyze trends in drug seizures and apprehensions to evaluate its priorities at each checkpoint?”
“Comprehensive data on who receives additional screening at checkpoints, and the reasonable suspicion that undergirds these encounters, searches, and seizures, is fundamental to understanding if and how Border Patrol abides by constitutional limits,” the letter states.
Leahy and Murray also called for the collection of data on “the quantities of drugs detected” during canine checkpoint searches in legislation the pair reintroduced last month.
“Unless a government agent has a legitimate reason to stop and search you—a reasonable suspicion or probable cause—Americans should not be subject to questioning and detention for merely going about their daily lives,” Leahy said in a press release. “The Trump administration cannot be trusted to use its finite resources in a way that protects our civil liberties and reflects our values.”
It’s not clear if cannabis seizures for U.S. citizens remain prominent at immigration checkpoints since the 2017 report was released, but one thing that the Customs and Border Protection has made clear is that it doesn’t matter if a stop takes place in a state that’s legalized marijuana—it enforces federal law.
That applies to instances of illicit drug trafficking across the border, too. But as more states like California have legalized cannabis, border agents have seized less and less marijuana.
Congressman Tells Joe Rogan He Backs States’ Marijuana Rights But Actually Voted Against Them
Joe Rogan debated the merits of marijuana legalization on Tuesday with a Republican congressman who ultimately conceded that medical cannabis should be federally legal and states should be empowered to set their own legalization policies.
But neither Rogan nor Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) mentioned the fact that he recently voted against a House amendment to shield state marijuana laws from federal interference and has not added his name as a cosponsor of several pending medical cannabis bills.
The congressman, a former Navy SEAL, didn’t rule out the possibility of coming around to endorsing adult-use legalization but voiced several concerns about the prospect, including underage usage, the lack of technology to detect impaired driving and reduced productivity.
“I can be convinced, but I’m not there yet,” he said on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. “I’m definitely more open to just the federal legalization of medical marijuana and all the benefits that come with that. On the recreational side, I’m happy to leave that up to the states.”
“My issue with recreational marijuana still—and this is not a strong opinion I have, this is not a hill I’m dying on by any means—but if we’re going to change it, I want to understand what the point is, what the benefits are of it recreationally,” he said. “I understand the benefits medically very well, but I want to understand the recreational benefits and I want to see how this data plays out in places like California and Colorado.”
Rogan emphasized that alcohol is federally legal despite risks to young people, but Crenshaw, an avowed scotch fan, said his “counter is simply this: the alcohol issue is out of the bag” and that we’re “never going to put that back in.”
“My point is this: there’s a normalization that occurs when you legalize something,” the congressman said. “What you’ve done though is you normalized it for teenagers. There’s a lot of people who can just live their lives extremely productively and smoke pot a lot. And there’s a lot of people who can’t and there’s a lot of people who don’t.”
“Those people are lazy bitches,” Rogan said.
“Don’t you have to drink way more scotch to get even close to the basic cognitive incoherence that you’d be with just one bite of a brownie?” Crenshaw asked.
“You would, but not me,” Rogan said. “I smoke pot all the time. I could have smoked pot before this podcast and had the exact same podcast. I could have had several hits. If I gave you several hits, you’d be obliterated.”
“On a personal level, I’m just not opposed to what you’re saying at all,” Crenshaw said. “From a policy level though I just look at things different.”
That stance is reflected in the freshman congressman’s record. Despite voicing support for medical cannabis and leaving recreational legalization up to the states, he’s declined to cosponsor any legislation on the former issue and proactively voted against an amendment to protect states that legalize marijuana for adult use from federal intervention.
(On another drug policy issue near and dear to Rogan that didn’t arise during the interview, Crenshaw also voted against an amendment from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed barriers to research on the benefits like psilocybin and MDMA.)
Crenshaw said his perspective wasn’t formed out of naivety and that he tried marijuana and didn’t like it. He also argued that cannabis “does reduce productivity I think more than alcohol does.”
“As a policymaker, I have to look at the whole situations. I see people like you and you’re like you’d be fine, why not?” he said. “But I do have to take into account the entirety of the situation and ask myself, ‘well, what is the benefit to society doing this?'”
Rogan said that marijuana facilitates community bonding and makes people happier—to which Crenshaw responded “I don’t know, I think alcohol is much more of a social lubricant—it definitely makes you meaner too—but I mean as far as getting along with people and interacting with human beings.”
“I’m not dying on this hill. I have questions, and those questions are unanswered,” he said, adding that the “bottom line is that’s a state decision” to legalize recreationally.
“As far as the battles that we should fight at the federal level, we’ve got to start with the medical side. I think the science is clear there,” he said.
“Another reason I’m a Republican is because I believe in somewhat slower policymaking too. These conversations have to play out in society and we don’t always need to solve the problem right away. I think the medical conversation is the one we should be fighting for. I think the recreational side is a few steps beyond that. We’ll get to know and we’ll know more.”
Later in the podcast, Crenshaw defended the broader war on drugs and argued that “you might feel like you’re losing all the time, but you’re mitigating” drug use through prohibition enforcement.
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Joe Rogan Experience.
New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip
The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.
The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).
“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”
Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:
Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.
The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.
Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.
The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.
Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.
Photo courtesy of CBS 6.