The Trump Administration signaled last week it could crack down on recreational marijuana in states such as California where voters legalized pot last November, marking a possible change from the Obama Administration’s more permissive approach.
"There is still a federal law we need to abide by in terms of when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature," White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Feb. 23, 2017. "I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement."
The next day, Democratic California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom urged Trump in a letter to follow the hands-off pot approach he claimed Trump had promised during his campaign.
"A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday says that 71-percent of US voters (say) that the government should not interfere with states that passed legalized marijuana and during your campaign, you committed to honoring states’ rights when it comes to marijuana legalization," Newsom wrote on Feb. 24, 2017.
Newsom also helped write California’s voter-approved ballot measure, Proposition 64, that legalized recreational marijuana last November. He is running for California governor in 2018.
We wanted to know whether Newsom was right: Had Trump "committed" during his campaign to leaving recreational pot up to the states?
Newsom’s spokesman pointed to three examples during his campaign where Trump said marijuana legalization should be up to the states.
In a television interview on July 29, 2016 with KUSA-TV in Colorado, Trump said: "I wouldn’t do that [using federal authority to shut down recreational marijuana], no … I wouldn’t do that … I think it’s up to the states, yeah. I’m a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely."
In a radio interview with WWJ Newsradio 950 in Michigan on March 8, 2016, Trump said "I think it certainly has to be a state — I have not smoked it — it’s got to be a state decision … I do like it, you know, from a medical standpoint … it does do pretty good things. But from the other standpoint, I think that it should be up to the states."
At a campaign rally in Sparks, Nevada on Oct. 29, 2015, Trump said: "The marijuana thing is such a big thing. 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. It should be a state situation ... but 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."
Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Sparks, Nevada in October 2015 about marijuana legalization.
Trump’s comment at the Sparks rally was also recorded in a Washington Post news article at the time with the headline "Trump softens position on marijuana legalization."
A different view?
Newsom’s spokesman did not include a fourth high-profile example where Trump discussed legal pot, one that somewhat contradicts Trump’s other comments on the topic.
In an interview with Trump on Fox News on Feb. 11, 2016, host Bill O’Reilly described Colorado’s experience legalizing pot as leading to "... all of the dealers, all of the pushers are going to Colorado, loading up on the free pot because it’s legal, not free -- legal and then zooming around the country selling it. Does that concern you?"
Trump responded saying he favors medical marijuana "100 percent."
"But what you are talking about (with recreational marijuana), perhaps not. It's causing a lot of problems out there," Trump added.
Trump doesn’t bring up states rights in this interview.
But in his subsequent interviews, with the Michigan radio station in March 2016 and the Colorado television station in July 2016, he returns to his line that states should decide the matter.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has strongly opposed marijuana legalization. He told reporters on Feb. 27, 2017 that: "States they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not."
Long before running for president, Trump voiced strong opinions on drug legalization. In April 1990 in an article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Trump said the United States should legalize drugs and use the money collected to educate the public on the dangers of drug use. "We're losing badly the war on drugs," Trump said at the time, according to the article. "You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars."
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently claimed Donald Trump, during his campaign for president, "committed to honoring states' rights when it comes to marijuana legalization."
In at least three campaign interviews, Trump said he thought the issue of legalizing marijuana should be left to the states.
This wasn’t one of Trump’s high-profile promises like building a wall on the Southern border. And he did not address marijuana in his major campaign speeches.
But he did make clear, multiple times, how he felt when asked.
In a separate interview on Fox News, Trump expressed concern over legal pot in Colorado. But in two subsequent interviews he returned to his line that the matter should be decided by the states.
In the end, Trump’s own words back Newsom’s claim.
We rated it True.
TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.
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California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, letter to President Donald Trump, Feb. 24, 2017
Interview, Rhys Williams, spokesman for Lt. Gov. Newsom, Feb. 27, 2017
Los Angeles Times, Trump administration signals a possible crackdown on states over marijuana, Feb. 23, 2017
KUSA-TV, 9NEWS Denver, interview with Donald Trump, July 29, 2016
WWJ Newsradio 950, Michigan, interview with Donald Trump, March 8, 2016
YouTube, Donald Trump rally, Sparks, Nevada, Oct. 29, 2015
Washington Post, "Trump softens position on marijuana legalization," Oct. 29, 2015
Fox News, "The O’Reilly Factor," interview with Donald Trump, Feb. 11, 2016
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, "Donald Trump: Legalize Drugs," April 14, 1990
Business Insider, "Here's where President-elect Donald Trump stands on marijuana legalization", Nov. 9, 2016
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