Donald Trump’s politics are historically, let’s say, malleable. The man has changed his party affiliation five times since 1987. On the topic of marijuana, Trump too has wavered. Speaking about the drug war in 1990, Trump said in an interview, “You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”
By the time he ran for president as a Republican, Trump was singing a different tune. He publicly opposed legalization of marijuana and even hired as his attorney general Jeff Sessions, a staunch prohibitionist who’d previously said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Cannabis advocates relaxed when Sessions — who, as AG, revoked an Obama-era policy discouraging the federal government from prosecuting marijuana criminal cases in states where marijuana was legal — was inevitably banished from Trump’s kingdom in 2018. (Technically, Sessions resigned.) But it seems Trump’s dim view of the drug lives on, though for reasons related to self-preservation: He believes legalized marijuana could hurt his reelection chances.
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That’s according to a recent story in the Daily Beast, which quotes two GOP strategists who recently spoke to the president as saying that Trump fears the inclusion of marijuana initiatives on swing-state ballots in 2020 — Arizona, of course, is one such state — could spell the end of his presidency. If enough young, progressive voters are motivated to head to the polls to cast a vote for legalization, the thinking goes, they’ll also toss a vote Joe Biden’s way while they're in the booth, tipping the election in Biden’s favor in key battleground states.
As he is prone to do, Trump said the quiet part out loud at a recent campaign rally in Wisconsin, where, in 2018, Governor Scott Walker lost his race to a Democratic challenger in an election where voters at the polls were also deciding on various marijuana advisory measures.
“The next time you run, please don’t put marijuana on the ballot at the same time you’re running,” Trump told Walker, who was in the audience at the rally. “You brought out like a million people that nobody ever knew were coming out.”
We won’t know just how much Arizona’s recreational legalization measure — Proposition 207, it’s called — will boost turnout until Election Day, of course. But a May poll indicated 65 percent of voters in Arizona support it. More recent online polling by Civiqs suggests slightly higher numbers of support in the state — 67 percent — and finds support among Arizona Republicans to be a virtual dead heat between those in favor and those who oppose.
Coincidence or not — given the, uh, improvisational nature of Trump’s campaign, it’s hard to say — the issue also came up at last week’s Republican National Convention. One of the speakers, Cissie Graham Lynch, the granddaughter of preacher Billy Graham, delivered some remarks that suggested a connection between the rise of marijuana use and the decline of religion.
“During the pandemic, we saw how quickly life can change,” Graham said. “Some Democrat leaders tried to ban church services while marijuana shops and abortion clinics were declared essential. But you know what is truly essential? Our right to worship freely and live our faith in every aspect of life.” (Worth noting: many states that have legalized marijuana are led by Republicans.)
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A different RNC speaker, a member of Trump’s reelection campaign’s advisory board, implied that Democrats’ push for universal health care was really a Trojan horse for cannabis consumption.
“Democrats love to talk about health care being a human right, but a right to what?” Natalie Harp said. “Well, I’ll tell you. To them, it’s a right to marijuana, opioids and the right to die with dignity.”
In fact, Biden wants to decriminalize marijuana, not legalize it, which actually puts him in the minority in the United States; a Pew Research Center survey found last year that fully two-thirds of American citizens support legalization.
Both Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, have evolved on the marijuana issue, though in the opposite direction of Trump. Biden famously helped write the 1994 crime bill, which was tough on marijuana offenders and is widely seen as a major contributor to the rise of mass incarceration in America. After opposing a 2010 bill in her home state of California that would have legalized and taxed recreational marijuana, Harris supported a 2019 bill in the U.S. Senate that would do much the same thing, but at the federal level.