It almost appeared that the federal marijuana prohibition dam broke open last Friday when President Trump signaled his support for the STATES Act, a proposed bill keeping the federal government out of states who decide to legalize cannabis. The bill itself is a bipartisan effort put together by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Cory Gardner (R-Colorado).
Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before heading off to the Group of 7 summit in Canada last week, Trump said he was inclined to support the bill. However, the bill would have first to pass both houses of Congress, making it an uphill climb from the start.
"I support Senator Gardner. I know exactly what he's doing. We're looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes," President Trump told reporters. Trump’s statement received more media attention than Canada’s historic Senate vote on Bill C-45, which happened the day before, moving that country one step closer to being the first G7 nation to legalize cannabis.
It was no surprise to hear Trump support the bill, as last month, Gardner emerged from a series of meetings with the President where he laid out his case for a federalist approach to marijuana. At the time Gardner announced that the President gave him his word that he would support the bill.
“I have talked to the president about this bill,” Gardner said at a news conference. “In previous conversations, he talked about the need to solve this conflict. He talked about his support for a states’ rights approach during the campaign. Not putting words in the mouth of the White House, but I think this will be an opportunity for us to fulfill what is that federalism approach.”
If passed, the measure would amend the Controlled Substances Act so that its marijuana provisions do not apply to any person or business that complies with state laws.
And of paramount importance to an industry which currently has to deal in cash, for the most part, the bill specifies that legal marijuana sales would not be considered trafficking and do not amount to illegal financial transactions. In other words, the bill would allow federally insured banks to do business with the cannabis industry.
Experts and industry insiders had mixed reactions to the President’s words, with some overly excited by his proclamation, and others much more cautious, knowing how often this President is wont to change mind. With midterm elections only six months away, many see the President’s statement as nothing more than a ploy meant to sway some votes.
Here’s how various experts and industry insiders reacted to the bill and the President’s comments:
"I don’t think we should read too much into the president’s remarks. I think the bill is a free pass for the for-profit marijuana industry. It's really about money… I don't think anyone would make a bet on the long-term validity of an offhand remark by the president that he 'probably' would support something. I think he'll find out soon from... victims of marijuana addiction and impaired driving that this is not as popular as Cory Gardner is leading him to believe."
— Kevin Sabet, head of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a nonpartisan group opposed to marijuana legalization.
The President’s remarks “will knock the socks off the industry" and provide some security for investors interested in the sector.
— Attorney Aaron Herzberg of the cannabis-focused Puzzle Group Law Firm in Los Angeles, via LA Times
“[The bill] faces tremendous headwinds… We have seen this president voice his support for a lot of things related to cannabis, but he has done absolutely nothing to move legislation. This is just more empty rhetoric from a president who is vague on this issue.”
— John Hudak, marijuana policy expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, via LA Times
“We urge you to see through the smoke screen and reject attempts to encourage more drug use in America.”
— From a letter to Trump by a coalition of narcotics officers’ groups, via LA Times
“The very people you want involved in this market are the ones who have been most reluctant to get involved because of the banking issue. If you address that, you would have enormous beneficial effects for the industry.”
— John Vardaman, former Justice Department attorney who helped draft the Cole memo, via LA Times