A stark rejoinder to what Sean Spicer said on Thursday about applying federal drug laws to recreational marijuana use even in states that have legalized the drug. The public’s not keen on that idea.
And neither is Trump’s party:
Republicans are the demographic group that’s most willing to tolerate a federal crackdown in states where the drug is legal — and they’re still underwater on the prospect by nearly 20 points. Senior citizens(!) oppose it by a nearly two-to-one margin. Every other group tested has at least 68 percent disapproving.
Is it safe to trust Quinnipiac data about a Trump policy given how surprisingly harsh their polling has been for the president lately? In this case, yeah, probably, for the simple reason that numbers like these aren’t novel when Americans are asked about the federal/state divide on weed. For years now, polls have showed the public preferring a federalist approach to marijuana prohibition. In 2012, Gallup asked if the federal government should take steps to enforce federal law in states where the drug is legal. Fully 64 percent said no. A year later Pew asked a similar question, whether the feds should or shouldn’t enforce their own marijuana laws in states that allow use. The public split 35/60. Two years later Pew asked the question again and got nearly identical numbers, 37/59. In both Pew polls, majorities of Republicans agreed with the rest of the country. Last year YouGov tested the proposition yet again. This time opposition to enforcing federal law in pro-weed states exceeded a two-to-one margin, 26/57, with Republicans splitting 31/48. The only thing about the new Quinnipiac numbers that’s truly new is the margin, which is now three-to-one in favor of the federalist approach. Maybe that wider margin is a byproduct of the public becoming more favorable to marijuana generally or maybe it’s an artifact of Quinnipiac’s disparities with other pollsters lately (on Trump, at least). But there’s really no question at this point on which side of the issue the balance of public opinion lies.
In fact, even some top Trumpers think the administration’s policy of enforcing federal anti-marijuana law in pro-marijuana states is a terrible idea:
If you believe Cory Gardner, no less than Jeff Sessions has been known to favor the federalist approach — for reasons of expedience, if nothing else:
Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, where marijuana production and distribution has become an established industry, spoke with Sessions before his confirmation about the business in his state and was assured there will be no sudden changes in policy.
“That was the take-away from my conversation with Jeff,” Gardner said. “It’s not a priority of the Trump administration.”
According to Spicer on Thursday, it is a priority of the administration. Did Sessions lie to Gardner during their pre-confirmation hearing, assuring him that he wouldn’t disrupt an industry in Gardner’s home state knowing that he badly needed Gardner’s vote if he was going to become AG? Or is Gardner lying to Coloradans now by claiming that he stood up for their interests in his meeting with Sessions when in reality he didn’t press him on the subject? Keep an eye on Gardner if/when Sessions’s DOJ starts charging Coloradans with violations of federal law for smoking weed. He’s apt to lead the charge on this, at least among Republicans.
Oh, and as for the basic question of whether marijuana should be legalized, Quinnipiac has numbers for that too:
Republicans are anti-marijuana in this case, although it should be noted that at least one other national poll has found them to be evenly split on the subject. And there’s nothing new in having a majority of the public overall favor legalization. Various polls have found the same thing over the past few years.
So what’s Congress going to do about it? The main argument offered on Thursday in defense of applying federal law even in states that have legalized the drug is that the president doesn’t (or shouldn’t) rewrite the laws on the books. He has to enforce what Congress gives him. What should McConnell and Ryan give him? Full legalization is impossible to imagine, notwithstanding the wider public’s support for the idea, because it’ll make the GOP’s older base nervous. Legalization might well cost the party votes on balance as senior citizens who are strongly anti-marijuana decide to boycott the GOP in anger while younger voters who are strongly pro-marijuana give the GOP a round of applause before going on to vote Democratic anyway. What about a bill, though, that instructs the DOJ to prioritize enforcement according to the law of each individual state? If marijuana’s illegal under a state’s law, the feds can enforce their law there too; if it isn’t, the feds should devote their resources to other matters locally. Even older voters might be able to live with that as a compromise. And it would earn the GOP some respect from legalization advocates across demographic and partisan lines.
Here’s the president giving a very sensible answer about legalization at a campaign rally in Nevada last year. (Ignore the title of the video, which overstates Trump’s position.)