Donald Trump really hasn’t said much about marijuana as president-elect/president. His administration meanders from strong to modest opposition, depending on who’s talking. This is because cable news is in a nebulous area where media personalities, the president’s staff, channel advertisers, and occasionally everyday people brief Trump from the comfort of his TV.
Cannabis, like everything else, is hostage to the news cycle.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer first said the administration was looking at “greater enforcement.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and top Justice Department advisor, Steven Cook, have a dim view of all criminal justice reforms from the Obama years. They’ve had recent harsh words for legal cannabis, yet Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper recently described a meeting with Sessions where the AG stressed the administration’s other priorities over enforcement against legal cannabis. “Well you haven’t seen us cracking down, have you?” Sessions reportedly told the governor.
Still, a Justice Department review of the non-legally-binding Cole memo, which outlined expectations of state legalization in 2013, is said to be underway. Trump’s early executive order on crime was mostly a call to review and enforce laws against drug trafficking and criminal organizations, with no new authority or money to fight marijuana.
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As a candidate Trump said he was 100 percent supportive of medical cannabis, as president that support has shown itself to barely be barely 50 percent in maintaining a status quo with HHS Secretary Tom Price, formerly a not-totally-anti-medical-cannabis congressman from Georgia and the continuation of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer budget amendment which blocks DEA spending on state-compliant medical cannabis laws until September. And Trump’s Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agency has expanded Form 4473 for gun sales to make clear that no legal marijuana consumers, medical or otherwise, has 2nd amendment rights.
Then, Trump’s White House proposed to gut the ONDCP, or drug czar’s office, budget by over 90 percent while establishing a special commission to examine the opioid epidemic headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, perhaps the most specifically anti-cannabis member of the Trump team, yet also the farthest from controlling that federal weed policy. What does all of this mean?
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President Trump listens to these men, and others, on marijuana policy. However, their views on weed played little role in their ascendance in his government as opposed to their outright loyalty and deference to Trump himself. He doesn’t keep them around because he agrees with their extremist views on cannabis. But he listens to one advisor above all else: Cable news. As much as he may say he hates it, mainstream media is the central issue brief for America’s president, academics and political research filling in the rest (probably). Evidence abounds …
“As president, Trump has quite patently gathered his cues from cable shows, and the evidence surfaces in his Twitter account. Analysts have taken to tracing the substance of his tweets to programming moments on CNN or Fox News.”
“Some White House officials — who early on would appear on TV to emphasize points to their boss, who was likely to be watching just steps away in his residence — have started tuning into Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” because they know the president habitually clicks it on after waking near dawn.” – Erik Wemple/Ashley Parker The Washington Post
“White House staff have learned to cater to the president’s image obsession by presenting decisions in terms of how they’ll play in the press.” -Josh Dawsey, Politico
“MSNBC and Fox News are cashing in on Trump’s viewing habits, reportedly hiking up ad rates in February “as companies and outside groups try to influence Trump and his top lieutenants” through ads on his favorite networks.” -Elaine Godfrey, The Atlantic
Trump wants all his weed policies to be broadly popular and perceived as the strongest and best. That’s not news. What is news is that press briefings, media surrogates, and high ranking government officials used to be reliable attempts to describe an administration’s decided drug policy. Now, they’re active arguments to the president regarding an undecided one.
Used to be, federal marijuana statements were carefully orchestrated and approved soundbytes. Now, they’re often jockeying for future validation for putting on a popular show. It’s depressing, but cannabis is no third rail in getting this treatment, healthcare, taxes, immigration, civil rights, foreign affairs and been treated similarly.
So media around cannabis laws is more crucial than ever both for influencing the commander-in-chief, feeling out his staff’s arguments, and judging individual players overall influence. This ranges from dramatic reports of arrests and injury, to human interest pieces on patients in need or entrepreneurial green businesses. Cannabis law reformers talking to the press better behave, the president might be watching. For the public, this results in a type of “read between the lines” comprehension of news that reformers have long engaged in when judging media veracity, but is becoming a mainstream lenses for the public.
In last month’s budget debate, the White House did little to stop the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment protecting state medical marijuana programs, with Trump later asserting his ability to enforce constitutional duties even with that amendment on the books in the law’s signing statement. Some news outlets immediately interpreted this as a warning shot to medical patients. In all likelihood, the president wants flexibility and firmness simultaneously, and his discretion on this and many other parts of the budget strongly keep his options and opinions amorphous. It’s disappointing because he had the opportunity to lead a conversation on individual rights, safety, and economic instead of perpetually reacting to it.
A lot of people know not to trust everything they hear on TV, and as an internet commentator, I’m not saying otherwise. But, knowing what and how marijuana is being talking about on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox is not a sign of being duped by “lamestream news” so much as trying to understand the drug’s portrayal to the president at any given moment. During the campaign, Trump promised to keep the country in suspense on whether or not he’d accept election results. On cannabis at least, that promise has been kept.
If President Trump was going to war with legal marijuana, he won’t hesitate to tweet it. You don’t have to like every CNN commentator or Fox & Friends to contact them and share your support for legal weed. Until then, follow cannabis in the news without obsessing over it. Our president has that covered.
Bailey Hirschburg wrote this story for MJ News Network.