President Trump has a new White House press secretary—one who appears to disagree with him on whether states should be able to legalize marijuana.
Kayleigh McEnany, a longtime political commentator and former Republican National Committee spokesperson who is shifting from Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign to the new top administration position, has repeatedly claimed that cannabis legalization “should not be left to the popular vote” in states and should instead be decided by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Although the president does not personally support legalizing marijuana, he has consistently said he backs the right of states to do so without federal interference.
Beyond the question of state policies, a review of McEnany’s columns, television appearances and tweets reveals an ardent anti-marijuana mindset.
In a 2014 Daily Caller piece, she wrote that the cannabis reform movement is based on a “twisted,” “backwards” and “perverse” conception of liberty and an ignorance of scientific data—suggesting that the substance is to blame for emergency room visits, lung damage and lower IQ.
“The legalization of marijuana is a proxy war, setting the stage for legalization of a variety of these other vice crimes” such as other drug use and sex work, Trump’s new press secretary wrote, arguing that cannabis reform advocates’ conception of liberty is itself a “dangerous and pervasive narcotic that will extinguish virtue for the sake of vice.”
She continued to bash legalization supporters in a 2015 piece for Above the Law, saying they “naively” tout a “live and let live” slogan “with all the wisdom of a 1970s hippie fresh out of Woodstock.”
McEnany went on to blame cannabis for homelessness issues, traffic fatalities, sexual victimization, academic failure and psychopathology, arguing that the substance is more dangerous than alcohol.
“Where the subacute effects of alcohol can be the annoyance of a brief hangover, marijuana can have substantial lingering effects,” she wrote.
“Much like the big tobacco advertising campaigns geared toward young people, big marijuana is marketing its drug as an innocuous or appealing snack, sure to garner youth attention,” McEnany claimed. “While supporters applaud America’s new cash cow—marijuana—perhaps we should ask ourselves whether this newfound flow of revenue should be hoarded at the expense of America’s youth—the marijuana martyrs.”
In a 2014 CNN appearance, she argued that marijuana is as harmful as alcohol and opiates.
In a 2015 interview on Fox Business, McEnany claimed that it is “taking it a step too far” to suggest that laws banning marijuana and other drugs were based on racism and that it’s “a ridiculous argument to bring race into this.”
In a CNN appearance, also in 2015, she again said she does “not think [criminalization] is a racial issue,” also claiming that there is a “link between violent behavior and marijuana.”
During the 2016 presidential election, McEnany tweeted in reaction to a number of candidates’ cannabis comments.
For example, she slammed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for supporting states’ rights to legalize marijuana but not to discriminate against LGBT people who want to get married.
Hillary says states are laboratories for democracy & should decide on marijuana. How about same-sex marriage? Double standard #DemTownHall
— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) February 4, 2016
So states can decide on marijuana but not on same-sex marriage? There's the flawless Bernie Sanders logic at it again #DemDebate
— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) November 15, 2015
She also appeared to accuse Sanders of being high on marijuana in relation to his comments on climate change with which she disagreed.
Bernie Sanders says climate change causes terrorism. I say stop smoking marijuana BS #DemocratDebate
— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) November 15, 2015
Another tweet, riddled with spelling errors, appeared to suggest that Democrats want to solve the “heroine [sic] epidemic” by giving “the kidies [sic] the soft drugs” such as marijuana.
Solution to heroine epidemic? Legalize marijuana – give the kidies the soft drugs. #DemDebate
— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) January 18, 2016
Meanwhile, she cheered former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who was one of only a handful of candidates in the race to pledge to enforce federal prohibition in states that legalized for what she said was a “slam dunk” debate comment calling marijuana a “gateway drug.”
— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) September 17, 2015
Trump, on the other hand, repeatedly said during the campaign that he would respect whatever states decide to do on cannabis.
“I really believe you should leave it up to the states. It should be a state situation,” he said at one rally. “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state by state.”
While McEnany’s views on state cannabis laws appear to be at odds with those of her boss, they do seem to be in line with a number of other key figures in the Trump orbit.
Last month, the president named then-Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC)—who repeatedly voted against marijuana reform measures in Congress—as his new White House chief of staff.
In February, a top Trump reelection campaign spokesman said the administration’s position is that marijuana must be “kept illegal.”
In 2018, Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, rescinded an Obama-era memo directing federal prosecutors to generally respect state cannabis laws.
And although Trump has voiced support for states’ ability to enact their own marijuana policies when asked, he himself has taken several hostile actions on the issue as president.
His budget proposals to Congress, for example, have requested the deletion of a rider that shields state medical cannabis laws from federal interference. And when he has signed spending bills into law that contain that provision, Trump has issued statements arguing that he has the right to ignore it.
It remains to be seen if and how McEnany’s anti-cannabis worldview will impact the president’s actions leading up to the November election.
Former Vice President Joe Biden (D), the presumptive Democratic nominee, opposes legalizing marijuana—leading some observers to argue that Trump could try to outflank him and undermine support from young people in particular by endorsing the broad policy change in a surprise move as Election Day approaches.
The prospects for such a development seem less likely as the president continues to surround himself with prohibitionist advisers, however, though he has consistently shown that he doesn’t always value the advice of even his most senior staffers.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.