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Trump's Medical Marijuana Threat Contradicts the Law and His Own Position

A signing statement suggests the president may ignore a congressional rider protecting patients' access to cannabis.

C-SPANC-SPANThe appropriations bill that President Trump signed on Friday renews a rider that bars the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state laws allowing medical use of marijuana. But Trump signaled in a signing statement that he may decide to ignore that restriction, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, notwithstanding his repeatedly expressed support for medical marijuana and for respecting state policy choices in this area.

"Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories," Trump says in the signing statement. "I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." The implication is that Trump's duty to enforce the federal ban on marijuana, which makes no exception for medical use, could compel him to disregard the bill's limits on the use of DOJ money.

That position makes no sense, since Trump's duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed includes this law, which explicitly tells the Justice Department to refrain from interfering with state medical marijuana programs. Last August the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment prohibits the Justice Department from prosecuting medical marijuana suppliers who comply with state law, and the same analysis would also apply to civil forfeiture actions. As Steve Bell, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told Bloomberg News, "It is the constitutional prerogative of the Congress to spend money and to put limitations on spending." Bell described Trump's signing statement as "an extremely broad assertion of executive branch power over the purse."

Trump is not only trying to usurp the congressional power to decide how taxpayers' money will be spent; he is threatening to interfere with the autonomy that states are supposed to have under the 10th Amendment. He is also contradicting his own position both before and after his election. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in March 2015, Trump said he was leery of legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but "medical marijuana is another thing." He said he was "100 percent" in favor of medical use. He made similar statements while campaiging in Nevada that October, in New Hampshire the following January, and in Michigan two months later.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reiterated Trump's support for medical marijuana in February. "There's two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana," Spicer said. "I think medical marijuana, I've said before that the president understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing especially terminal diseases and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them. And that's one that Congress, through a rider...put in an appropriations bill saying the Department of Justice wouldn't be funded to go after those folks. There is a big difference between that and recreational marijuana."

The rider to which Spicer referred is the very one Trump has now signaled he may flout. Mind you, Trump has said states should be free even to legalize marijuana for recreational use, although he does not think that's a good idea. In the case of medical marijuana, he has taken the further step of saying he supports the policy, which makes this latest threat all the more puzzling.

"Donald Trump continues to send mixed messages on marijuana," says Michael Collins, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "After stating during the campaign that he was '100 percent' in support of medical marijuana, he now issues a signing statement casting doubt on whether his administration will adhere to a congressional rider that stops DOJ from going after medical marijuana programs. The uncertainty is deeply disconcerting for patients and providers, and we urge the administration to clarify their intentions immediately."

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  • Jerryskids||

    " Bell described Trump's signing statement as "an extremely broad assertion of executive branch power over the purse."

    So Trump's following precedent by pushing the envelope on the Imperial Presidency just as most every President in my lifetime has done? It's not illegal when the President does it, not when Congress and SCOTUS lets him get away with it.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Seems an odd hill on which to stand. Bound to get a court case and appeals, for such a silly corner of the drug war. I bet some advisor whispered in his ear and his scatter brain just went with it.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I bet some advisor whispered in his ear and his scatter brain just went with it.

    Probably this. I doubt he even bothered to read the statement before signing it.

  • gaoxiaen||

    bothered to= was able to

  • JuanQPublic||

    Probably something along those lines. Trump likely has no position on it to begin with, rather an assortment of draconian whispers that drive his incoherence from day to day.

    Trying to deconstruct, analyze and make sense of his day to day ramblings almost feels like an exercise in comical satire.

  • SIV||

    Trump seems, might, now "signals"...

    That's some threat.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Trump's signing statement may be against how the law should work, but it may be consistent with recent decisions by the almighty SCOTUS, that the presisent can ignore or rewrite the law if it interferes with what he thinks the intended policy is. Another one of the corruptions if republican government courtesy of the ACA.

  • Number 2||

    Are you making too much of this? It could be nothing more than a boilerplate statement.

  • gaoxiaen||

    They're all boilerplate statements.

  • Robert||

    It looks to me like it's either boilerplate, or a statement that the executive branch can follow what Congress passed and still be following the statutes on marijuana. In other words, if anything, this is Trump's affirmation that the limitation on the expenditure of funds in this case is consistent with the constitutional duties of the office.

  • Conservative Copwatch||

    Not even that. He was referring to executing THE LAW HE WAS SIGNING, which was in fact the renewal of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment in the appropriations bill. This is just another pathetic attempt to discredit the President without anything behind it whatsoever. Manufactured news.

  • lovingc||

    This is another indication that Trump is unfit for office. His rambling vision for America goes against American values and law. Trump is a goner as soon as congress gets off it's collective ass and acts.

  • ethernot||

    Alfred E. Sessions must have given him that statement; no way Twitler could have composed it himself--it has *way* too many words with more than two syllables ...

  • Old Monkey||

    I would seriously hope that the Fed and States get their act together on marijuana. Licensing, Potency, DUI limits, and taxing. No difference than cigarettes and alcohol. What's sold now is nowhere near what I smoked 30 years ago

  • Tionico||

    the Feds' rightful role on the issue of marijuana is... NOTHING. FedGov have NO authority to meddle with that, and they know it. They just refuse to do right. This, not having been assigned FedGov in the Constitution, remains to the states, or to the people, to address.

    Of course, we all know FedGov have a similar "it's not your bailiwick" restriction on... alcohol, tobacco, firearms........ but BATF would go on a permanent whinge if they were denied to add marijuana to their fiefdom, and would go postal if the other three were (as REQUIRED by the Constitution) yanked from underneath their soft soled shoes......

  • Tionico||

    Likely he's getting some visits from Uncle Vinnie and his cousin Guido. Tellin' him "ya know, we wuz a kinna hopin' ya'd 'a dun diffrent, ya know?"

  • John Thomas||

    It's likely the Trump gang knows there's nothing they can do to stop marijuana legalization. - But, their shouting fire and brimstone at it CAN slow the growth of the legal market down by keeping established businesses off balance and new ones fearful about starting.

    So, their "policy" about marijuana may be just what they are doing. - No bite and lots of bark to keep the black-market (and their piece of it) chugging along a little longer.

  • b4integrity||

    Part 1

    President* Trump is refusing to answer my February communication to him:

    https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact#page

    3:04 PM, Friday

    2017Feb24

    President Trump,

    The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) contains the following:
    "The Congress makes the following findings and declarations:
    (1) The Congress has long recognized the danger involved in the manufacture, distribution, and use of certain psychotropic substances for nonscientific and nonmedical purposes, and has provided strong and effective legislation to control illicit trafficking and to regulate legitimate uses of psychotropic substances in this country. Abuse of psychotropic substances has become a phenomenon common to many countries, however, and is not confined to national borders. It is, therefore, essential that the United States cooperate with other nations in establishing effective controls over international traffic in such substances."
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/21/801a

    Tobacco & alcohol are psychotropic (mood-altering) substances, affecting mental activity, behavior, or perception when ingested.
    Tobacco & alcohol are the two most deadly & dangerous of all drugs.
    Tobacco drug use accounts for more drug deaths (~480,000 tobacco drug deaths/year in the U.S.A.) than the summation of the drug deaths from the use of all other drugs, including alcohol, combined!

  • b4integrity||

    Part 1

    President* Trump is refusing to answer my February communication to him:

    https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact#page

    3:04 PM, Friday

    2017Feb24

    President Trump,

    The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) contains the following:
    "The Congress makes the following findings and declarations:
    (1) The Congress has long recognized the danger involved in the manufacture, distribution, and use of certain psychotropic substances for nonscientific and nonmedical purposes, and has provided strong and effective legislation to control illicit trafficking and to regulate legitimate uses of psychotropic substances in this country. Abuse of psychotropic substances has become a phenomenon common to many countries, however, and is not confined to national borders. It is, therefore, essential that the United States cooperate with other nations in establishing effective controls over international traffic in such substances."
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/21/801a

    Tobacco & alcohol are psychotropic (mood-altering) substances, affecting mental activity, behavior, or perception when ingested.
    Tobacco & alcohol are the two most deadly & dangerous of all drugs.
    Tobacco drug use accounts for more drug deaths (~480,000 tobacco drug deaths/year in the U.S.A.) than the summation of the drug deaths from the use of all other drugs, including alcohol, combined!

  • b4integrity||

    Part 2

    Tobacco meets the definition of a schedule I controlled substance.
    Alcohol meets the definition of a schedule II controlled substance.
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/21/812

    Tobacco & alcohol are unconstitutionally exempt from the CSA in violation of the Equal Protection Clause [21 U.S.C. § 802(6)].
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/21/802

    Are there any scientific and/or medical purposes for the use of the psychotropic substances tobacco & alcohol? If there are, what are the scientific & medical purposes for the use of tobacco & alcohol?
    What are the legitimate uses of the psychotropic substances, tobacco & alcohol, in this country?
    What is(are) the reason(s) that tobacco & alcohol are exempt from the CSA?

    Do you acknowledge that the CSA violates the Equal Protection Clause?
    Why do you enforce the CSA when it violates the Equal Protection Clause?
    Why haven't you called for Congress to either:
    1) Repeal the exemptions of tobacco & alcohol from the CSA and classify tobacco as the schedule I controlled substance it is, and alcohol as the schedule II controlled substance it is; or
    2) Repeal the entire CSA and abolish the DEA?

  • MatthewlovesAyn||

    As much as I disagree with many of the stands of President Trump, this is absolutely one I agree with. Are we, or are we not a nation of laws? If you don't like a law, it should be changed, not ignored. That's a trick of the left. Get all the drug laws off the books if you don't like them.

  • John Thomas||

    MatthewlovesAny - Study your history. - As in the case of Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, civil disobedience is often the only way to remove fraudulent, oppressive laws. - We owe a tremendous debt to those who practiced civil disobedience of the monstrously destructive fraud of marijuana prohibition. - We wouldn't be winning now without their brave actions

  • lovingc||

    This shows that Trump is unfit for the office. He is trying to take dictatorial powers. His assertions that he is above the law are insane.
    I think he wants to be impeached.

  • Conservative Copwatch||

    You guys are so completely and utterly full of it!! He was speaking specifically about the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment being the LAW he would faithfully execute! Holy crap you guys really need to get over it and start exhibiting some intellectual honesty and integrity. His statements on medical marijuana are a matter of public record. He supports it 100% and now you are trying to pull something out of context completely disingenuously. He was signing the provision BACK IN TO RENEWAL when he wrote the statement, ABOUT Rohrabacher-Farr, and you want to pretend he is saying he is referring to the prohibition, and not the LAW HE WAS SIGNING AT THE TIME???
    Wow. Just.... Wow.

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