White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer just gave one of the most direct comments we've gotten from the Trump administration regarding marijuana policy. In response to a reporter's question at a February 23 press briefing, Spicer said he believes we will see "greater enforcement" of federal marijuana laws.
His comment comes after months of speculation regarding the administration's position on marijuana legalization.
"If the administration is looking for ways to become less popular, cracking down on voter-approved marijuana laws would be a great way to do it. On the campaign trail, President Trump clearly and repeatedly pledged that he would leave decisions on cannabis policy to the states. With a clear and growing majority of the country now supporting legalization, reneging on his promises would be a political disaster and a huge distraction from the rest of the president's agenda," said Tom Angel, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, in response to the Spicer statements.
Spicer's comments came on the heels of news of another unprecedented move: The Trump Administration is considering eliminating the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
In an internal memo obtained by the New York Times earlier this week, the ONDCP was listed among nine endangered agencies, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. The administration is targeting these programs in particular, citing a misuse of taxpayer dollars.
The ONDCP focuses primarily on giving out grants to help reduce drug use and drug trafficking.
Trump had spoken fervently about the drug crisis in America while he was on the campaign trail.(His brother died of alcoholism in 1981, at the age of 43.)
"We first should stop the inflow of opioids into the United States. We can do that and we will in the Trump administration," he said last year. "As this is a national problem that costs America billions of dollars in productivity, we should apply the resources necessary to mitigate this problem. Dollars invested in taking care of this problem will be more than paid for with recovered lives and productivity that adds to the wealth and health of the nation."
According to a fact sheet published last year by the Obama White House, the ONDCP was given $1.5 billion for the Drug-Free Communities program, to aid in prevention efforts.
"We won't speculate about what-ifs of possible changes at the Office of National Drug Control Policy," Mark Salley, director of communications for Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), said in an e-mail to Westword.
Steve Bell, a former staff director of the Senate Budget Committee, told the Times that cutting the ONDCP and other targeted programs listed won't reduce government spending enough to make any dent in the overall budget. "It's sad in a way, because those programs aren't causing the deficit," Bell told the Times. "These programs don't amount to a hill of beans."
Bell is not the only one concerned about the ONDCP being cut: Police have also spoken out against cutting the agency. In a letter to President Trump, Chuck Canterbury, the national president of the the Fraternal Order of Police, expressed "deep concern" over the elimination of the program, especially in a time when "drugs now kill more people than gunshot wounds and car crashes."
According to Canterbury, the ONDCP "plays a vital role" in coordinating strategy to fight the opioid epidemic, and without it, state and local law enforcement agencies will have additional challenges coordinating a cohesive strategy. ONDCP, Canterbury noted, funds "critical programs" like the Drug Free Communities programs and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).
Many of Trump's executive orders and actions will require the approval of Congress — and for marijuana advocates, that could be a good thing.
Last week, Congress officially announced the creation of the Cannabis Caucus, which we'd discussed with Representative Ed Perlmutter last month.
"The Cannabis Caucus is a good place to develop our strategies," Perlmutter told us at the time. "There are a number of pieces of legislation that have been proposed. Jared Polis has one or two pieces, a guy named Earl Blumenauer from Oregon, Dana Rohrabacher from California, Susan DelBene from Washington — so there are pieces of legislation, and what we need to do is get momentum going in Congress."
Rohrabacher, Blumenauer and Polis, all longtime advocates of marijuana reform, founded the caucus along with Don Young of Alaska.
Simultaneously, Rohrabacher introduced the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act in an effort to protect cannabis companies and individuals from federal prosecution in states where voters have legalized medical or recreational use of cannabis.
The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration still considers marijuana a Schedule I illicit drug, along with heroin and ecstasy.
"Today I am proud to announce the establishment of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus," Earl Blumenauer said in announcing the caucus's creation. "We are going to do everything we can to keep the momentum going that we've established in the last four to five years that has seen great progress on this issue. Now, with a new administration, it's vitally important that we pay attention and that we don't do this halfheartedly and haphazardly, and that we get together and have a professional presentation to the people of the United States and to our fellow members of why it's important for us to take the policies that have not worked in the United States and hurt people when it comes to cannabis, and change those polices so it works for the people of this country."
Watch Blumenauer's full statement on his website.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.