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Could Trump pull a ‘cannabis surprise’ in 2020? It’s not impossible

September 12, 2019
Trump loathes cannabis, but could promise to legalize if he thinks it'll gain him a few points in Nov. 2020. (Andrew Harnik/AP
Every September the folks at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the nation’s oldest cannabis legalization group, bring lobbyists, political scientists, reporters, organizers, state lawmakers, and members of Congress together in Washington, DC, to talk shop. Wins and losses are tallied, strategies are debated, the year ahead is forecast. The three-day event always offers a bracing, concentrated blast of both hope and cold reality.

Here’s a report from the front—or, what you need to know as Congress winds down its long summer vacation.

Change, fast and slow

Some things are changing quickly. Justin Strekal, NORML’s rumpled and brilliant political director, noted that “when I started doing this three years ago, there were six paid industry lobbyists working marijuana policy on the Hill. Now there are over 60.”

Trump will do anything to get re-elected. If he senses a couple percentage points in a legalization pivot, he just might jump on it.

Other things move glacially—which isn’t all bad. Glaciers move slowly, but they always grind forward. When asked to predict when Congress might finally end federal cannabis prohibition, the most optimistic answer was the year 2021. “Not this year, not 2020,” said Amber Littlejohn, senior policy advisor at the Minority Cannabis Business Association. “We’re looking at two to three years, maybe longer.”

If it happens, it’ll likely be in the year “before the 2024 election,” said Michelle Rutter, congressional lobbyist for the National Cannabis Business Association (NCIA). “A lot hinges on what happens in the Senate.”

The Trump factor

Kris Krane, founder of 4Front Ventures and one of the advocates behind Massachusetts legalization, threw out a wild card. “There’s a potential X factor here,” he said. “I still think  there’s a plausible possibility that President Trump will come out in support of cannabis reform in 2020.” Why? “Because it would be smart political strategy for him to do so.”

Krane’s theory rides on the rising tide of national polls showing support for full legalization at 65% to 68%. The political strategy makes even more sense if Joe Biden claims the Democratic nomination. Biden, a notorious 1990s drug warrior, remains the only Democratic primary contender who refuses to embrace legalization. “Joe Biden,” noted NORML’s Justin Strekal, “is to the political right of every Republican on the House Judiciary Committee on this issue.”

Related

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Trump hates cannabis, but…

I’ve written previously about my belief that Trump personally loathes legalization and all things cannabis. (And, we found out this week, vaping.) His worldview formed in the 1970s and 1980s, when cannabis remained entwined with hippies and the counterculture—dirty, disgusting people in the mind of a man who aspired to a life of limousines and gilded toilets. Trump also considers rural county sheriffs, last of the drug war holdouts, to be a core part of his base.

At the same time, Trump is a man who will do anything to get re-elected. If he senses a couple percentage points in a legalization pivot, he just might jump on it. Such a move won’t sway any Democrats. But it might give younger undecideds a reason to vote against Biden.

During his first two post-election years, Trump served as a kind of legalization Rorschach test. Skeptics shook their heads at his appointment of Jeff Sessions and the revocation of the Cole memo. Supporters pointed to his defense of states’ rights and comments ostensibly in support of medical cannabis. Which is to say: Trump doesn’t necessarily need to do anything. It might be enough for him simply to posture as though he’s considering it.

Related

Time to Admit It: Trump Opposes Cannabis Legalization

It’s a company town

Washington DC is a weird political town. Everybody who lives there is involved in politics, but when you walk around the city you rarely hear the kind of political chatter that’s common in Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Boston, or Chicago. There’s no Trump talk in the streets.

Want to kill a bad bill? Show up at the markup hearing and don’t leave until your bill gets addressed.

People in DC like the status quo. They’re not out demonstrating in front of the White House. That’s what other Americans do when they come to DC.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), the longtime legalization advocate who addressed the NORML conference on Monday afternoon, brought home the truth. “Political change doesn’t start in Washington DC and trickle out,” Wyden said. “It starts with the grassroots and comes to DC from the ground up.”

“There is no reason for cannabis to remain a Schedule I drug,” Wyden said. “It is obvious to you and me. It is obvious to medical professionals. It is obvious to most folks other than that fellow who runs the Senate floor,” he said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).

Want legalization? Show up and speak out

Why hasn’t it changed? Inertia. It costs members of Congress nothing to do nothing.

Time and again this week I heard local legalization advocates recount how they got their bills passed. It’s all about putting pressure on politicians. It’s about speaking out, showing up, and getting other people—normal people, not professional lobbyists—to do the same. The most powerful phrase in American politics is “I’m your constituent.”

Got a committee chair who refuses to consider a bill? Start a social media campaign to call her office. Keep calling. It works. (Hat-tip to Nevada activist Madisen Saglibene, who made it happen in her state.)

Related

How to Change a State Cannabis Law

Want to kill a bad bill? Show up at the markup hearing and don’t leave until your bill gets addressed. Politicians notice the people who stay.

“Political changes happens when people show up at their city council and at their legislative offices,” said Wyden.

As we enter the autumn political season, it’s time to do your part. Keep contacting your Congress members and your state legislators. Let them know you’re a constituent, you vote, you give a damn about this issue, and you’ve got a loud fucking voice. Don’t wait for them to act—make them act.

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

View Bruce Barcott's articles

  • Highway 69

    I don’t care if he changes his position on legalization. I don’t trust a word that comes out of his mouth. He will say and do anything to gain favor.
    Anybody paying even a little attention to what he’s all about should know he doesn’t give a shit about anybody or anything except himself.

    We love cannabis… or we wouldn’t be on this site. But we can’t allow this single issue (legalization) alone be the reason we vote for him — or anybody! The stakes are too high.

    • RPG456

      And the left wingers are pure as the driven snow?

      • Hardlee_Ded

        …right now I’d vote blue no matter who.

      • Serai 1

        No, the left wingers aren’t demented lunatics out for power and their own enrichment to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. They’re not traitors selling out the country for a buck. They’re not obstructionists willng to betray everything this country is about to keep their miserable butts out of jail.

        • GTG

          Brilliant sarcasm!

    • dr3yec

      Everything you said sounds like you are discribing a liberal candidate. Not one has ever told the truth.

      • Hardlee_Ded

        …and conservatives do?
        Trump lies more than all of Congress combined… both primary parties.

      • Serai 1

        Please take your rightwing Fox News talking points somewhere else. Some of us pay attention to what’s actually going on.

    • Shank Hunt

      Quit watching MSDNC and The CLINTON NEWS NETWORK! TRUMP IS THE GREATEST PRESIDENT AND BY THE WAY THEY ARE WORKING RIGHT NOW AS WE SPEAK TO HAVE HOM PUT ON MT. RUSHMORE! GET A LIFE DUDE PUT THE PHONE DOWN LEAVE YOU 3RD WORLD LIBERAL SHITHOLE YOU OBVIOUSLY LIVE IN COME TO THE HEARTLAND AND SEE HOW WELL AMERICA IS DOING! BTW IM PRO MJ AND PRO TRUMP WAKE UP BRO THE DEMONRATS ARE EVIL!

      • psi2u2

        Quit shouting in the comments.

        • Anon Emus

          Why? Does it hurt your ears?

      • Kent Rath

        You must be doing Heroin to be pro Trump!!! I need medical relief and the only way it’ll happen is to legalize Marijuana both Federally and Statewide recreational with an age limit like booze!!! So those of us who have been poisoned by the Drug Companies for the past 40+yrs!! And healthcare like Sanford Health which is just a financial company robbing people blind with unnecessary test’s ect, has to be stopped, they’ve told all of their Drs if they sign a MMJ CARD for anyone they’ll be fired!!!
        That’s absolutely against the hypocritical oath that the Drs are responsible for obeying in every sense of the word!!!!! This issue must be at the forefront of any candidate NO MATTER WHAT PARTY!!!!!!!

      • Hardlee_Ded

        Dude… can shout, don’t hear you.

      • Scotty Myers

        GTFO, you meathead.

      • Serai 1

        Shank. SHANK. You’re supposed to take the anti-psychotics with food. With FOOD, Shank!

      • Me Very Messy

        Who the heck is HOM?

      • justsomeguy05

        I can’t tell if this is real or a parody.

    • Serai 1

      Indeed. We smokers have been waiting decades for legalization. We can wait a little longer if it means keeping that… person… out of the Oval Office for another four hellish years.

      • Highway 69

        Amen!

    • Dave C

      You mental midgets can’t stand the fact that President Donald J. Trump is, and will be the most successful President in U.S. history.
      🇺🇸Donald J. Trump, A True American Hero! 🇺🇸
      TRUMP/2020 🇺🇸 Don Jr. 2024 🇺🇸

      • MeFilms

        no

    • Dave C

      Moron say what?

      • Anon Emus

        Well, YOU said it.. moron.

  • JR

    Well considering a Russian oligarch bought one of the biggest vapor cart companies in the country Cura Brand (Select Strains) Trump will be getting paid by the industry back door style.

    • RPG456

      Derp

      • Serai 1

        About as intelligent a response as we could expect from you, Sergei.

    • TexasToker

      I wish Trump would stop the rambling about how awesome he is, and sit down to take a few tokes himself…HOPEFULLY CHOKING TO DEATH IN THE PROCESS!!! He is a jackass!!

      • Kent Rath

        Right on

      • BA5578

        So much hate…
        I thought liberals were more tolerant.
        You don’t speak for all Texans.

        • Serai 1

          No, only the sane ones.

    • Scotty Myers

      Hold up, some russian dude owns Select Vape ?

  • RPG456

    Drug addicts are not exactly known as stable voting bloc. Haha. Most pot heads don’t vote in national elections.

    • psi2u2

      Come here to show your prejudices often?

      • Serai 1

        He’s a Russian troll. They’re all over comment boards and social media.

    • Kent Rath

      You don’t know what you’re talking about!!!

    • Don Inghram

      People who smoke pot are not all drug addicts.

    • “most”? Show some numbers and citations or STFU. Stooge.

    • Anon Emus

      You would be surprised. Although, I wouldn’t call weed smokers drug addicts OR pot heads. Caffeine is worse than weed. I smoke weed. I’ll vote R, every chance I get, to the day I die.

    • Serai 1

      Go back to Moscow, Sergei. Putin’s got your rubles and vodka waiting, and your nonsense doesn’t work anymore.

  • dr3yec

    Weed is feeding the problem of the homeless in liberal states. You have to be a moron if you don’t see the problem.

    • Hardlee_Ded

      …where did you get that information from?

      • GTG

        His a$$.

    • That’s as absurd a claim as I’ve ever heard. You must be one of those extreme right wing moonbats that Trump has driven back into the political woodwork.
      Please stay there. Our President is doing what needs to be done to benefit all Americans. Your Ilk no longer have a voice. It died with Bush/Cheney.

    • Serai 1

      And you’re a heartless wingnut bent on fomenting division and cruelty. Go home and yell at the pigeons, why don’t you.

    • the vast majority

      Alcohol is just as guilty. Unless you propose getting rid of both?

    • GTG

      Rarely do you encounter the “homeless” smoking cannabis. Their main drug is alcohol. It is very easy for them to obtain. Next in line is meth, which is the drug that put most of them in the streets in the beginning. Meth is also rather cheap and easy to obtain for them. Many more are consuming “synthetic cannabis” which contains zero cannabis.

  • Linda Vee Sado

    Obama had 8 years to do something about legalization. But it’s all Trump’s fault.

  • Good article. 😉

    Trump has given his word to a few proponants of legalization in the legislative branch that he will support state’s rights on the matter. Such bi-partisan legislation exists in different forms.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/STATES_Act

    If that passes and Trump signs as promised, it will nullify federal law by default. The two cannot coexist.
    Call your Reps in both houses. Tell them you expect them to push these bills through.
    Alan St. Pierre said years ago that the matter of legalization is a political one as opposed to a legal one. He was right.

    • Serai 1

      You’ve got to be insane. WHEN has this psychotic clown EVER kept a promise? Not once in his miserable, money-grubbing life. Please wake up and stop viewing the entire world through the I WANT WEED lens.

  • Anon Emus

    The entire Democratic party conspired to falsely accuse an innocent man (Kavanaugh), of sexual assault and even gang rape. The entire Democratic party (along with the main stream media.. CNN, MSN, ABC, CBS, Huffington Post, basically everyone but FOX), tried to completely destroy an innocent man’s life, to keep him off the Supreme Court! What the Democrats did to that man is CRIMINAL, but they knew they could get away with it, because they almost never prosecute false accusers. I love weed. I also love America. I’m a veteran and served my country. The Democrats are literally trying to destroy the country from within. Wake up, people. The main stream media is lying to you. Trump is not a racist. Black and minority unemployment is lower than it has EVER been, literally. GDP (for those that may not know), is THE overall indicator of how well our economy is doing. GDP is over 3% every quarter since Trump has been in office.. Obama said we would have to “get used” to 1% (its on video, and easy to find). Stock market is GREAT (if you don’t invest, you SHOULD.. you DON”T have to be rich.. you can start with $100 or less. Get an index fund with Vanguard, you’re basically just investing in American companies… when they make money, YOU make money.. its literally THAT simple). Trump is killing it, but the main stream media, continues to lie, and re-hash the stupid things that he has said, over and over. Democrats literally spent 3 YEARS trying to get anything… ANYTHING on the “Russia collusion” hoax. = Nothing! Absolutely NOTHING! Yes, Russia tried to sway our election. NO, Trump had NOTHING to do with it. Now, Democrats want to falsely accuse Kavanagh AGAIN! Trying to destroy an innocent man’s life AGAIN. Smoke a bowl, swallow your pride, and watch some FOX news… just give it a chance. You will see they are not racists, and they’re not white supremacists… they are just the “adults in the room” (the ONLY ones), while the Democrats will literally destroy anyone or anything, just to be able to abort babies all the way up to 9 months. WHO are the ones that constantly BURN the flag? …and WHO are the ones, that will fight to the death to save it (I’m one of those people)? I served in the Army with white people, black people, Asian, Hispanic, Indian (from India, not Native American), we even had a guy from Iraq in our platoon… we ALL would have DIED for each other. There are REAL threats out there, people.. China, Russia, Iran, North Korea… they want to nuke our country off the face of the earth (and they don’t care which way you vote). I love weed, (and Trump would be insane to try to reverse the progress we’ve made with MJ… trust me, he would NEVER do that), but there are more important things to worry about, first. Can’t smoke weed, without a country to smoke it in. Trump is the ONLY choice in 2020! The Democrats have exposed themselves as criminals. If you haven’t seen the ridiculous false accusations against Brett Kavanagh, I suggest you take a look at it (youtube, or anywhere else really). Then, ask yourself: If they can do that to a man of STELLAR character, in such a high position, imagine what’s happening to your average, every day citizens that get falsely accused. This isn’t black against white, or male versus female, or even left versus right… this is America versus criminals and terrorists, who want to DESTROY it from within. TRUMP 2020 in a landslide…. WAY WORSE than 2016!

    • BA5578

      Two words: Amen brother.
      I’d press the thumbs up button 100 times if I could.
      As I’ve said in many comments over the last 2 years, the election of 2016 gave us the Republican candidate AND all but one state- level cannabis initiative. That proves that this issue is a bi-partisan one. People of all shapes & sizes, skin colors and political beliefs love the plant. Those same people love our country and are sick & tired of liberals doing everything they can to destroy it.
      At some point, democrats will grow tired of being lied to.

  • Christopher Kalble

    Legalizing cannabis is good for America…Make America Grow Again…President Trump is all for business for American, all Americans. I’ve always said President Trump of any president will legalize cannabis. Makes good business sense.

    • Serai 1

      LOL. Another idiot taken in by Twitler’s lies. This guy hasn’t kept a SINGLE promise he’s EVER made, but you believe this nonsense because it’s what you want to hear. Grow up.

  • Serai 1

    Wrong. Trump is a mile away from anyone we’ve ever had in the Oval Office. Don’t pretend “most politicians” are anything like him.

  • justsomeguy05

    Kris Krane is delusional if he thinks Trump would take any positive steps on cannabis. And Bruce Barcott should know better than to repeat such nonsense. This is the sort of social media propaganda that worked on some fools in 2016. Shame on Krane & Barcott for being so easily duped.

  • Anon Amos

    I don’t think so. His evangelical holier-than-thou base would have a fit. It probably remains to have a Dem prez end Prohibition.

    • GTG

      A great many conservatives are pro-cannabis.

  • Serai 1

    This thread is flooded with Russian trolls trying to convince sane voters that the Orange Assclown would ever keep a promise. He’s NEVER kept ANY promise in his entire pathetic life, for gods’ sakes! WAKE UP AND STOP THINKING ONLY OF YOURSELVES.