Defying his own Justice Department, President Trump said he might support legalizing weed at the federal level— but only in states that have legalized it on their own. Trump was speaking in response to a new bipartisan Senate bill that would allow states to set their own marijuana laws, and is in direct opposition to the position of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with whom Trump has been openly feuding lately.
“We’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes,” Trump told reporters when asked about the legislation, which was introduced by by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Gardner, according to the New York Times.
The bill in question would not outright legalize marijuana at the federal level, but it would resolve a longstanding conflict between state and federal cannabis laws and give states much more freedom to set their own laws. Currently, the drug is illegal at the federal level; however, 30 states have passed laws authorizing either medicinal or recreational marijuana within their borders.
The legislation in question would keep the federal ban in place, but limit its application to states that haven't legalized marijuana on their own. In essence, this would give states — and, as also identified in the bill, Indian reservations — the right to override federal marijuana laws by passing their own laws, or ballot initiatives, legalizing the drug.
This is a stark contrast to Sessions' own longstanding opposition to any leniency regarding cannabis laws. In 2017, Sessions sent a letter to federal lawmakers asking that they rescind the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prohibits the Justice Department from using federal funds to prosecute marijuana-related activities in states that have passed laws legalizing the drug. Sessions, who reportedly once said that he thought the Ku Klux Klan "was okay until I found out they smoked pot," also created a task force in the Justice Department to, in part, examine the link between marijuana use and violent crime.
“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” Sessions said to reporters shortly after taking office. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.” According to Snopes, Sessions' implication that marijuana legalization correlates with "real violence" is false.
Trump has changed his own position on cannabis over the years. During the campaign, he said came down in favor of relaxing marijuana laws, saying that he supports legalizing the drug for medical purposes and allowing the states to set their own laws regarding its recreational use.
"I think medical should happen — right? Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states," Trump said at an October 2015 campaign rally. "I believe that the legalization of marijuana — other than for medical, because I think medical, you know, I know people that are very, very sick and for whatever reason the marijuana really helps them...but in terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state."
In a March 2016 interview, Trump said that "from a medical standpoint, [marijuana] does do pretty good things," and that "from the other standpoint, I think that it should be up to the states."
After taking office, however, Trump shifted course on weed. In January, he authorized Sessions to rescind an Obama-era rule that directed prosecutors to de-prioritize marijuana prosecutions; White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained that Trump's new position reflected the fact that, as president, he "believes in enforcing federal law." Now, it appears that the president is drifting back towards a pro-legalization position.
It's worth noting that Trump has been highly critical of Sessions in recent months, calling him "disgraceful" and "very weak." In May, the president said that he regrets appointing Sessions to serve as Attorney General, and when asked Friday whether he might fire him, said only that "we'll see what happens."