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.
USDA Approves Hemp Plans For Six Additional States And Three Indian Tribes
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has signed off on hemp plans for six additional states and three Indian tribes this month, with a new batch of approvals coming on Friday.
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota each had their regulatory proposals accepted within the past two weeks, as did the Comanche Nation, the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.
That raises the total number of approved plans to 69.
USDA has been signing off on hemp proposals on a rolling basis over the past year. Last month, it accepted plans from Utah and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians.
The South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) has received final approval by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the South Dakota Industrial Hemp Plan.
— SD Dept of Ag (@SDAgriculture) October 16, 2020
Illinois and Oklahoma were among a group of states that USDA had asked to revise and resubmit their initial proposals in August.
While the agency released an interim final rule for a domestic hemp production program last year, industry stakeholders and lawmakers have expressed concerns about certain policies it views as excessively restrictive.
USDA closed an extended public comment period on its proposed hemp regulations earlier this month. Its initial round saw more than 4,600 submissions, but it said last month that it was reopening the feedback period in response to intense pushback from stakeholders on its original proposal.
The federal Small Business Administration (SBA) said last month that the new 30-day comment window is too short and asked USDA to push it back, and it also issued a series of recommended changes to the interim final rule on hemp, which it says threaten to “stifle” the industry and benefit big firms over smaller companies.
All told, it appears that USDA is taking seriously the feedback it’s received and may be willing to make certain accommodations on these particular policies. The department’s rule for hemp is set to take effect on October 31, 2021.
In July, two senators representing Oregon sent a letter to Perdue, expressing concern that hemp testing requirements that were temporarily lifted will be reinstated in the agency’s final rule. They made a series of requests for policy changes.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote to Perdue in August, asking that USDA delay issuing final regulations for the crop until 2022 and allow states to continue operating under the 2014 Farm Bill hemp pilot program in the meantime.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) also called on USDA to delay the implementation of proposed hemp rules, citing concerns about certain restrictive policies the federal agency has put forward in the interim proposal.
The earlier pilot program was initially set to expire on October 31, but it was extended to September 2021 through a congressional continuing resolution that the president signed late last month.
The senators weren’t alone in requesting an extension, as state agriculture departments and a major hemp industry group made a similar request to both Congress and USDA in August.
Perdue has said on several occasions that DEA influenced certain rules, adding that the narcotics agency wasn’t pleased with the overall legalization of hemp.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, hemp industry associations pushed for farmers to be able to access to certain COVID-19 relief loans—a request that Congress granted in the most recent round of coronavirus legislation.
While USDA previously said that hemp farmers are specifically ineligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, that decision was reversed last month. While the department initially said it would not even reevaluate the crop’s eligibility based on new evidence, it removed that language shortly after Marijuana Moment reported on the exclusion.
Two members of Congress representing New York also wrote a letter to Perdue in June, asking that the agency extend access to that program to hemp farmers.
Hemp farmers approved to produce the crop do stand to benefit from other federal loan programs, however. The department released guidelines for processing loans for the industry in May.
Meanwhile, USDA announced last week that it is planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.
AOC Wants To Work With Republicans To Legalize Marijuana And End War On Drugs
Democrats and Republicans might be divided on a number of major policy issues, but Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said on Thursday that ending the drug war and legalizing marijuana are increasingly standing out as exceptions to hyper-partisanship in Congress.
The congresswoman made the point during a virtual town hall alongside cannabis reform ally Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), stating that since she took office, it’s been encouraging to see members on both sides of the aisle come together on issues concerning “civil rights policy and civil liberties,” including ending “drug prohibition laws.”
“We’ve been able to propose solutions on a wide spectrum towards decriminalization, towards legalization, and that is increasingly becoming a position that more Republicans are amenable to,” she said.
For example, her spending bill amendment to divert $5 million in funding from the Drug Enforcement Administration to an opioid treatment program was approved without opposition in the House last year, Ocasio-Cortez said.
“That’s defund before defund became a widespread demand that we heard this year—and Republicans supported it,” she said, referencing progressive calls to defund law enforcement amid protests over police killings of black Americans. “So there are some areas where you can find common ground.”
Blumenauer also said at the event that “part of why we are fighting so hard to eliminate the failed prohibition on cannabis is because that’s been a tool that’s been used against people of color in particular that has horrific consequences and helps fuel that prison pipeline that has wreaked such havoc on our communities.”
To that end, Ocasio-Cortez said that, beyond federally legalizing cannabis, it’s important for lawmakers to ensure that any regulated markets that emerge are structured in a way that encourages participation by communities most hurt under prohibition.
“There are different ways that we can go about legalizing cannabis in the United States, and you can go about it in a way that concentrates power in a [Big Agriculture] way that concentrates power in big banks and that cuts out small mom and pops,” she said. “And then there’s another path towards legalization where everyday people and especially the black and brown communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs can be at the front of the line of enjoying the economic benefits of legalization.”
“I think we’re just so past due to make sure that we’re legalizing cannabis in the United States and that we’re expunging people’s records from the absolutely unjust war on drugs,” the congresswoman said. “It is an incredible priority.”
New York Will Legalize Marijuana By April And Regulate CBD-Infused Drinks, Governor’s Advisor Says
The top marijuana advisor to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) says cannabis legalization legislation will again be introduced through the state budget in January, with the goal being to enact the reform by April. He also previewed state regulations for hemp-derived CBD products, including allowing infused drinks and food items.
During an interview with Canopy Growth Corp.’s David Culver on the company’s recently launched video series, “Under The Canopy,” Assistant Counsel Axel Bernabe talked about how efforts to legalize marijuana in surrounding states underscore the need for reform in New York. And he said the legislation the governor will be introducing will serve as a “model” for other states, prioritizing social equity and economic development.
In this episode of #UnderTheCanopy we speak to Axel Bernabe of @NYGovCuomo's office who answered our questions on New York’s upcoming #hemp regulations, #cannabis #legalization, and the Gov.’s pandemic response. Watch here: https://t.co/5SzWFMnFSU
— Canopy Growth (@CanopyGrowth) October 14, 2020
But he also recognized that neighboring New Jersey may beat the Empire State to the punch, as voters are positioned to approve a legalization referendum next month.
“We’re watching New Jersey closely. We’ve always been confident that we get to this before New Jersey, so if they pass the referendum they still have to have agreement between the governor the Senate over there,” he said, referring to necessary implementing legislation that will need to be approved if voters pass the ballot question. “We’re working on this. We’re going to reintroduce this in our budget in January. We think we can get it done by April 1.”
That said, a top New Jersey senator recently indicated that lawmakers in the Garden State could pass the enacting bill as soon as the first week of November.
Over in New York, Cuomo has included legalization in his budget proposal for the last two years, but negotiations have consistently stalled out in the legislature, with sticking points such as how cannabis tax revenue will be allocated preventing a deal from being reached.
“If Jersey can beat us to it, then they’ll get the gold star—but I still think we’re going to set the model here.”
Bernabe said he’s especially excited about the public safety and economic development components of the administration’s forthcoming legalization proposal. And he spoke about the need to ensure social equity for communities historically targeted by the war on drugs, adding that there will be some changes from this year’s version in light of other states’ experiences.
“I would say equity pervades the entirety of the bill. It pervades it on the licensing front, it’s on the revenue side and the use of funds and providing capital and loans,” he said.
Also in the interview, Bernabe talked about pending regulations for hemp-derived cannabinoids. While those who grow the crop for fiber, seeds and other agricultural purposes are covered under existing rules, he said the administration is “literally putting the final tweaks” on policies for consumer CBD products that will take effect at the beginning of 2021.
“We’re excited because we’ve taken the bull by the horns so to speak. I think people recognize that there are a lot of sectors or product lines that haven’t really had some thorough regulation attached to them,” he said. “You can pick a number of them but probably the most high-profile or obvious ones are something like vapes—so CBD or other cannabinoid extract vapes. Flower, even some tinctures, and foods and beverages.”
“How do you regulate that? What are the parameters around it? What’s permissible? What’s not?” he said. “We dug deep. I don’t know that we’ll get everything right. We had to make some calls.”
NY is on the cusp of opening their hemp market – but what went into the regulatory process to make this a reality? Axel Bernabe from @NYGovCuomo's office discusses this & all things cannabis-related in this episode of #UnderTheCanopy Click here to watch: https://t.co/5SzWFMnFSU pic.twitter.com/HEK351bG5o
— Canopy Growth (@CanopyGrowth) October 18, 2020
The administration official offered an example of a regulation they’re likely to pursue that other states have avoided: creating rules for cannabinoid-infused drinks and food items.
“We think of this in terms of consumer protection. Those products are already out there. There’s no sense in trying to pretend they’re not,” he said, adding that one way they’re planning to ensure those protections is to set a maximum 25 milligram CBD dose per serving.
“We’re really doing it across the board on this,” Bernabe said. “We’re really looking at every product class and trying to strike a balance between consumer protection and letting people have what they’re obviously using extensively for health and wellness.”
As the administration finalizes those rules, the state’s hemp industry also recently got some news about broader regulations. Since a congressional continuing rider signed by the president last month extends the 2014 Farm Bill pilot program for the crop until next September, the New York Agriculture Department said it will similarly allow hemp businesses to continue to operate under the existing program until September 30, 2021.
“With so much uncertainty right now, we applaud [the department’s] move to extend these rules,” Allan Gandelman, president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, said in a press release on Wednesday.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.