WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s administration sent more signals last week that it intends to enforce federal laws against marijuana use, yet advocates for legalizing the drug are still trying to sort out exactly where Trump himself stands on the issue.
Rep. Steve Cohen suggests they should look to Jared Kushner for clues.
“It comes down to WWJD – what would Jared do?” the Memphis Democrat said.
Kushner is Trump’s son-in-law and one of his most trusted and influential advisers. He’s married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka and is seen by many as someone who brings a moderate sensibility to the White House and a steadying influence on the commander-in-chief.
Kushner’s position on marijuana legalization is unclear. He doesn’t appear to have ever made any statements — pro or con — on legalized weed. But Cohen has a hunch he’s an ally. After all, he’s young, was born and raised just outside of New York City and was a Democrat until his father-in-law ran for the White House.
“I feel confident that Kushner and Ivanka Trump would advise the president not to come down harder on marijuana,” said Cohen, who supports medical marijuana and believes that legalizing recreational marijuana should be left up to the states.
“How can you be 36 years old and grow up in New York City and be for having people jailed for marijuana?" Cohen said. "It’s like the witch hunts. A hundred years from now people will think it’s such backwards thinking.”
Trump’s thinking on marijuana policy is a bit hazy. Back in 1990, before the dawn of his political career, he argued the country was losing the war on drugs and that drugs should be legalized. But during his presidential campaign, he seemed to go back and forth. He opposed marijuana legalization, then he favored medical marijuana, and then he claimed the decision should be left up to the states.
In February, White House spokesman Sean Spicer hinted the administration would step up the enforcement of federal laws against recreational use of marijuana. Then last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a consistent marijuana foe, directed the Justice Department to evaluate how it enforces federal cannabis laws and send recommendations to him.
The conflicting signals coming from the president and his administration have created confusion, Cohen said.
“It’s a schizoid type of situation, and I don’t know where he’ll come down on it,” Cohen said.
There’s little doubt which direction the public is heading.
While marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, 28 states permit medical marijuana and eight have legalized marijuana for recreational use. A Quinnipiac University poll released in February showed that 71 percent of Americans oppose efforts to enforce federal marijuana laws in states where recreational use is legal. The poll also found that 93 percent support medical marijuana and 59 percent favor making it legal for all purposes.
Cohen also senses Congress is moving in the same direction as the public. Exactly how much movement has taken place could be determined later this month, when Cohen is expected to refile a bill that, among other things, would give states more rights to set their own medical marijuana policies.
The bill has had bipartisan support in the past yet has never won approval in either the House or the Senate. Cohen thinks its chances have improved this year.
Support “has just been growing,” he said.
Michael Collins is the Washington correspondent for the USA Today Network-Tennessee. His weekly Tennessee in D.C. column highlights Volunteer State lawmakers, causes and connections. Contact him at 703-854-8927, at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @mcollinsNEWS.