Furthering the mounting evidence that attitudes surrounding marijuana are shifting, a recent Survey USA poll found that two out of three Americans want the Trump Administration to support state cannabis laws as states continue to eye the 2018 elections as a battleground for legalization. Despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ very public disapproval of cannabis, the momentum for ending the prohibition of cannabis seems to be gaining strength, putting President Trump in an awkward position as states look to keep the federal government out of cannabis enforcement.
During the Obama years, the former president found himself in an unusual role for a Democratic president: supporting state’s rights over federal oversight when it came to marijuana. As the public debate about cannabis changed during Obama’s years in office, he put in place guidelines, known as the Cole Memorandum, that would keep federal prosecutors from pursuing cannabis cases, opening the door for states to shape their own policies. With findings from Survey USA as well as another poll from Quinnipiac, the momentum surrounding cannabis legalization appears to have carried into the Trump era.
What’s the Trump Administration’s stance?
The new administration brings about significant complications despite the very clear opinion of Americans on the issue, with much of the complexity coming courtesy of Attorney General Sessions. Not only has Sessions said that he will push back against changes in cannabis law but he has even asked congress to allow him to undercut some of the protections against prosecution put into play by Obama. Although it was denied by congress, this would have allowed Sessions to specifically target medical marijuana providers despite state law and the Obama-era precedent.
Even with Sessions’ vehement opposition to state law, however, the trends outlined by Survey USA are very clear – even with age groups and demographics that overwhelmingly voted for Trump. When asked whether states should enact their own cannabis laws, 72% of those 65 and older said that they should while support peaked at 80% for those between 18 and 49. As for prosecuting cannabis consumers in states that allow it, only 12% of respondents thought this was a good idea, kneecapping the possibility of a public mandate for Sessions’ attempt at stringent cannabis enforcement.
What’s the stance of the American People?
Perhaps sensing the public sentiment on the issue, President Trump himself has been reluctant to publicly support Sessions’ point of view even while signaling the possibility of greater enforcement. Part of the hesitance to back his attorney general on cannabis enforcement seems to stem from Trump’s own words on the campaign trail, as he once stated that “I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.” This support for state’s rights on cannabis enforcement has inevitably prompted marijuana advocates to cite Trump’s own words against his administration, including California’s Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom.
While Sessions looks to undermine the public opinion and current state laws, states are getting even more aggressive when it comes to pursuing their own marijuana laws leading up to the 2018 mid-term elections. Even deep red states like Utah and Oklahoma are set to put medical marijuana legalization on the ballot in 2018 while states like Florida, Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri and Nebraska – all states Trump won – are expected to vote on full legalization for recreational purposes during the next election cycle.
Although finding bipartisan support for any issue has proven difficult in the current political mood, a variety of recent surveys suggest that cannabis advocates are poised for a major breakthrough on the state level. While both red and blue states are pursuing approval of cannabis for both recreational purposes and medical use, federal lawmakers still in favor of the cannabis prohibition are finding their viewpoints increasingly estranged from popular opinion. Although it will likely still take time to fully change federal law when it comes to cannabis, even cannabis’ fiercest critics are struggling to find any public support for interfering with state laws.
This post was originally published on July 4, 2017, it was updated on October 5, 2017.