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.
Vice President Pence Slams Marijuana Banking Provisions In Democrats’ COVID Bill
Vice President Mike Pence on Monday criticized the inclusion of marijuana banking language in the latest House-passed coronavirus relief bill.
During an interview with Fox Business’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” the vice president discussed GOP priorities for future COVID-19 legislation and said they were at odds with those of Democrats.
“In the House of Representatives, I heard the other day that the bill that they passed actually mentions marijuana more than it mentions jobs,” Pence, who consistently voted against cannabis amendments when he served in Congress, said. “The American people don’t want some pork barrel bill coming out of the Congress when we’ve got real needs from working families.”
This is one of the more high-profile examples of Republicans condemning the cannabis provisions, but it’s far from the only one. Just last week, Pence’s chief of staff, who previously served as director of legislative affairs for the White House, made similar remarks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been one of the most vocal critics, though he’s largely focused on specific industry diversity reporting requirements of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act that were included in the COVID legislation along with the basic financial services provisions of the bill.
The SAFE Banking Act, which previously passed the House as a standalone bill, is primarily meant to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
The prospects of getting the House version to the president’s desk seem dim, as negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have stalled.
President Trump, meanwhile, has decided he’s not waiting for lawmakers to reach a deal and issued an executive order over the weekend that calls for new unemployment benefits, student loan payment deferrals and more.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said on Sunday that Democrats are “ready to meet the White House and Republicans halfway.” What remains to be seen, however, is whether “halfway” would involve cannabis banking protections.
Democrats have made the case that granting cannabis businesses access to the banking system would mitigate the spread of the virus by allowing customers to use electronic payments rather than exchange cash. They also say it could provide an infusion of dollars into the financial system that’s especially needed amid the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) told Marijuana Moment in an interview last week that she agrees with her colleagues that the marijuana banking provision is relevant to COVID-19 bill.
“By continuing to disallow anyone associated with these industries that states have deemed legal is further perpetuating serious problems and uncertainty during a time when, frankly, we need as much certainty as we can get,” she said.
While the Senate did not include the banking language as part of their COVID-19 bill, there’s still the House-passed standalone legislation that could be acted upon.
The SAFE Banking Act has been sitting in the Senate Banking Committee for months as lawmakers negotiate over the finer points of the proposal.
Last month, a bipartisan coalition of state treasurers sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking that they include marijuana banking protections in the next piece of coronavirus relief legislation.
In May, a bipartisan coalition of 34 state attorneys general similarly wrote to Congress to urge the passage of COVD-19 legislation containing cannabis banking provisions.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.
Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative Officially Qualifies For November Ballot
A measure to legalize marijuana in Arizona officially qualified for the November ballot on Monday.
The secretary of state announced that activists turned in enough valid petitions to make the cut one month after about 420,000 raw signatures were submitted.
Under the measure, adults could possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
The initiative also contains several restorative justice provisions such as allowing individuals with prior marijuana convictions to petition the courts for expungements and establishing a social equity ownership program
Cannabis sales would be taxed at 16 percent. Tax revenue would cover implementation costs and then would be divided among funds for community colleges, infrastructure, a justice reinvestment and public services such as police and firefighters.
The Department of Health Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. It would also be tasked with deciding on whether to expand the program to allow for delivery services.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said that her office verified petitions submitted by the Smart and Safe Arizona campaign and determined that they turned in approximately 255,080 valid signatures. At least 237,645 were needed to qualify.
The measure will be designated on the ballot as Prop. 207.
The Secretary of State's Office has certified the signatures submitted by the Smart and Safe Arizona initiative. After review, the petition exceeded the minimum requirement with approximately 255,080 valid signatures and will be placed on the General Election ballot as Prop. 207. pic.twitter.com/E6nM4vkLgf
— Secretary Katie Hobbs (@SecretaryHobbs) August 11, 2020
It’s been a long road to the ballot for activists, who at one point asked the state Supreme Court to allow them to collect signatures electronically amid the coronavirus pandemic. That request was ultimately rejected.
Prohibitionists attempted to keep the measure off the ballot by filing a suit in state court, arguing that the official summary of the initiative was misleading because it omitted certain provisions. The court disagreed and rejected the suit last week, though it’s still possible the legalization opponents will appeal.
Arizona voters narrowly rejected a marijuana legalization initiative in 2016. But in a survey of likely voters released last month, more than six-in-ten (62 percent) said they now support legalizing cannabis, while 32 percent are opposed.
Opponents of the proposal, including Gov. Doug Ducey (R), recently released official voter guide arguments against the initiative. Supporters filed arguments as well, and all will be circulated to voters in a pamphlet printed by the state.
The governor, in his submission, argued that legalization is “a bad idea based on false promises.”
Meanwhile, pro-legalization activists are asking supporters to share personal stories about why they support the cannabis ballot measure.
Share your personal story or reason for supporting Smart and Safe AZ, for the chance to be featured on our social media platforms! Submit your story on our website: https://t.co/Kbxa003kXK #SmartandSafeAZ #legalizemarijuana pic.twitter.com/EhO7jeFuPG
— Smart & Safe AZ (@SmartandSafeAZ) August 10, 2020
Here’s a status update on other 2020 drug policy reform campaigns across the country:
The Washington, D.C. Board of Elections certified last week that activists submitted enough valid signatures to place a measure to decriminalize plant- and fungi-based psychedelics in the nation’s capital.
Oregon’s secretary of state confirmed last month that separate measures to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs while expanding treatment services will appear on the November ballot.
Montana activists said last month that county officials have already certified that they collected enough signatures to place two marijuana legalization measure on the state ballot, though the secretary of state’s office has yet to make that official.
Organizers in Nebraska last month submitted 182,000 signatures in an attempt to put a medical marijuana measure on November’s ballot.
Idaho activists behind a medical marijuana legalization initiative were hoping to get a second wind after a federal judge said recently that the state must make accommodations for a separate ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the other group last week, hopes are dashed.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, separate measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.
The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.
And in Mississippi, activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.
A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.
North Dakota marijuana legalization activists are shifting focus and will seek qualification for the 2022 ballot.
Washington State activists had planned to pursue a drug decriminalization and treatment measure through the ballot, but citing concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak, they announced last month that they will be targeting the legislature instead.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Federal Drug Decriminalization Model Unveiled By Top Reform Group
A leading drug policy reform group recently unveiled a framework to federally decriminalize all illicit drugs that they hope will be embraced by Congress.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) said ending the drug war will help address racial disparities in the criminal justice system and promote public health. The proposal is being rolled out ahead of the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Controlled Substances Act, the legislative basis of today’s federal drug criminalization.
Full bill text of the proposed “Drug Policy Reform Act” isn’t available yet, but according to a summary, it will contain provisions to end strict sentencing constructs such as mandatory minimums for drug conspiracy offenses, provide for expungements and end collateral consequences for drug convictions like the denial of public benefits and educational loans. It would also defund federal drug agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“There are many elected officials—on and off the Hill—that speak to the sentiments of drug decriminalization, continually touting drug use should be treated as a public health issue instead of a criminal issue—most notably when it comes to marijuana,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager at DPA’s Office of National Affairs, told Marijuana Moment.
“However, tides are shifting and this transformational political moment calls for this roadmap we have provided legislators to begin repairing the extensive devastation the failed drug war has created beyond marijuana and beyond talking points,” she said. “There are congressional offices and allies who are, in fact, ready to see the end of criminalizing people for drug use actualized; we’re looking forward to working with them to lay the groundwork for this much needed reform in Congress.”
Criminal penalties for simple possession would be removed on the federal level. While Congress can’t change state laws under which a majority of people punished for drug offenses are prosecuted, the proposal states that federal dollars would no longer go to states for drug enforcement purposes. Also, military equipment would not be allowed to be transferred to local or state law enforcement departments for drug enforcement, no-knock warrants and surveillance technologies for drug offenses would be prohibited and employment discrimination based on criminal conviction disclosures would also be banned.
Under the proposed legislation, drug scheduling classification responsibilities would be shifted from DEA to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
NIH would also led a rulemaking task force to create a definition for “personal use quantities” and establish a process for “facilitating voluntary access to services for those seeking addiction treatment,” according to the summary.
The legislation would also promote investments in harm reduction programs to treat substance misuse.
“Removing criminal penalties for drugs is a first step in repairing the harms of the drug war,” Theshia Naidoo, managing director of criminal justice law and policy at DPA, said in a press release.
“In 2018 alone, over 1.6 million people were arrested on drug charges, over 86 percent of which were just for possession. These arrests can have impacts that last for a lifetime, often preventing access to employment, housing, financial aid for college, and even jeopardizing parental rights or immigration status,” she said. “And as we all know too well, these laws are far from equal. They are disproportionately enforced on Black, Latinx & Indigenous people, resulting in generational trauma, vilification and economic hardship on entire communities.”
At the state level, voters in Oregon could make the state the first in the nation to decriminalize possession of all drugs after an initiative to enact that policy change officially qualified for the ballot last month.
Insiders at the Vermont Democratic Party are also circulating a draft platform that proposes adding an end criminalization for drugs as a 2020 plank.
While neither President Trump or presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has backed broad drug decriminalization, presidential nominees for the Libertarian and Green Parties have both voiced support for the policy change.
Read DPA’s summary of its proposed drug decriminalization legislation below: