With 2016 fast approaching, all eyes in the marijuana community are on former Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and his call to legalize cannabis nationwide. But he isn’t the only presidential candidate who has moved toward full reform.
Republican billionaire Donald Trump, who until recently led the GOP field, talked back previous comments that implied he would fight legalization if elected. Now he says the issue should be left to the states. That puts him closer to reform than all but one fellow Republican.
“In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,” Trump said at a political rally in Nevada Oct. 29.
Trump’s new remarks followed promises by Sanders to pursue legalization of marijuana for all uses. Trump didn’t go so far, but his comments mark a turnaround from earlier statements about legalization. Earlier this year, he told a gathering of conservative donors that he opposed legalizing cannabis for recreation. He has repeatedly said he supports medical marijuana.
Contradicting previous comments
It’s hard to say exactly where Trump stands on cannabis or what policies he would prefer. He tends to change positions to match the mood of the moment, so saying he backs reform today doesn’t mean he will tomorrow.
Still, his recent remarks suggest he’s moving away from his earlier opposition. That may be in part because he has dropped in the polls in recent weeks, falling behind surgeon Ben Carson in the GOP primary race. He still maintains a commanding lead over the rest of the Republican field, but his stock has dropped.
Trump addressed the issue just hours after the third GOP debate Oct. 28. His performance in that event was lackluster, and he may be looking to shore up support on an increasingly popular issue. But his record on the subject is complicated, to say the least.
In a speech at a luncheon twenty-five years ago, Trump said the federal government should legalize all drugs and use the savings to pay for educational campaigns aimed at preventing drug abuse.
“We’re losing badly the war on drugs,” he said at the time. “You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”
Full support for medical marijuana
Trump has rarely if ever wavered in his support for medical cannabis, but his stance on recreational marijuana has see-sawed over the years. In June, he told a conservative political conference the country should reject full legalization.
“I say it’s bad,” he said about Colorado’s legal cannabis program. “Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about it.”
But asked whether voters should be allowed to legalize as a matter of states’ rights, Trump suggested he might leave the federal government out of it.
Trump would leave legalization to the states
“If they vote for it, they vote for it,” he said. “But you know, they have got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems.”
Trump moved further in that direction at the Nevada rally. He was asked what he thought of legalization and replied that states should be able to decide for themselves. Medical marijuana is legal in the state, and next year’s ballot will ask voters whether they want to legalize recreational cannabis.
“Marijuana is such a big thing,” Trump said. “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.”
But he stopped short of supporting legalization himself. All evidence shows reform has worked remarkably well in Colorado, Washington, and Colorado, but Trump insisted that isn’t so.
“And of course you have Colorado,” he said. “And I love Colorado and the people are great, but there’s a question as to how it’s all working out there, you know? That’s not going exactly trouble-free. So I really think that we should study Colorado, see what’s happening.”