If President Donald Trump wants to stick it to critics, he should use their own ammo and legalize marijuana.
The summer of 2018 has bruised the president worse than usual in the eyes of his detractors. Nearly 53 percent of Americans, and apparently thousands of Scots, disapprove of him for everything from Mexican border policy, a trade war with China, a debacle with Russian president Vladimir Putin that even had friendly FOX screaming treason.
There’s an inverse law at play. The more Trump’s media acceptance tanks, the better the country treats its most heavily used illegal drug, marijuana. A June 20 poll from Center for American Progress found seven in 10 Americans support legalization. Thirty-one states, including conservative Oklahoma, have some kind of legal pot.
Trump should take note of the dozen or more legalization bills in Congress. Democrats are claiming this issue, but half these bills are sponsored by Republicans, including Alaska’s Rep. Don Young. The only major Democrat who doesn’t support marijuana reform is Sen. Diane Feinstein, recently jettisoned from the party’s plans like a sandbag from a leaky schooner.
The money behind the movement is speeding up as the politicians do. Advocacy groups like NORML, Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project, and the National Cannabis Industry Association are tied to the industry itself and are shouting the time is near.
Trump never opposed legalization, but has been slippery about it. He told the nation during his campaign that he supports both states rights and medical marijuana, but didn’t directly talk about recreational pot. He told the press on June 8 that he would “probably support” Sen. Cory Gardner’s bill.
If it’s trade domination Trump wants, he should put his money where his mouth is.
Right now, Canada dominates a fast-growing global marijuana export market as nations on every continent ease their pot laws. The U.S. is letting the world’s next major growth industry slip away.
If pot were nationally legal, the U.S. has the knowhow to lead. The current marijuana industry’s patchwork regulations haven’t kept it from growing at warp speed since 2014. To an extent, it looks like any other national industry. It has leaders, lobbyists, state and local licensing and regulations that hurt some and help others, division of labor, and specialization.
But it’s only a shade of American commerce. Federal drug laws keep the country’s savviest businesspeople afraid that pot will put them on the wrong side of a SWAT team or U.S. Division of Securities taskforce. Business risk is one thing. Criminal risk is something else.
The framework already exists. Lawmakers in different states swap knowledge, so most states have similar regulations. Most marijuana industry leaders fully expect a nationally legal industry would be folded into agriculture, retail, tobacco, alcohol or pharmaceutical concerns anyway.
It would be the smart political move. It would punish Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the senior Republicans, the main hurdles to federal reform and no friends of the president. Republicans like Young, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, and Rep. Tom McClintock, though, are on board with legalization bills.
It would also hijack a dearly-held Democratic Party platform and strip the Democrats of an issue that doubtless brings them huge swaths of voters. Trump’s equally populist opposite, Sen. Bernie Sanders, supported full-scale marijuana reform for a reason. Most Americans want legalization, and every state with legal pot used the populist ballot initiative to do so.
If Trump wants to be a Republican leader to the Republicans who support him, he has to choose. He can take the wheel or let Canada or Democrats take all the magic brownie points for something most Republicans support anyway.
• DJ Summers is a Houston-based journalist and author of The Business of Cannabis: New Policies for a New Marijuana Industry, published in March by ABC-CLIO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.