On December 14, 2018, President Donald Trump announced via tweet that “Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management & Budget, will be named Acting White House Chief of Staff.” Formerly, as a member of Congress, Mulvaney was a reliable advocate of relaxing federal cannabis law.
For example, in 2014 Mulvaney voted in favor of H.R. 4486, which, if it had passed, would have allowed physicians working for the Veterans Administration to recommend cannabis products to patients in legal states. He voted for similar provisions for the next two years as well. Mulvaney also voted for H.R. 2578, which included provisions to prevent the federal government from “preventing states from implementing their own laws legalizing medical marijuana.” In 2014 he voted in favor of the Heck Amendment to H.R. 5016, which would have prohibited the Treasury Department from punishing banks that did business with state-legal marijuana businesses. Similarly, he voted for a measure that would have prevented states from penalizing financial institutions doing business with state-legal marijuana businesses. Mulvaney also supported rescheduling marijuana and repeatedly supported hemp and CBD legalization.
As Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment, “Mulvaney’s history of…support for states’ rights, specifically when it comes to marijuana, makes him our strongest ally in the White House.”
The position of acting chief of staff is not Mulvaney’s first position in the Trump administration. He previously served as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and in that position suggested cutting the budget of Office of National Drug Control Policy, for reasons of “liberty” and reduced federal government spending.
Another candidate for the position of Trump’s latest chief of staff was Chris Christie, an avowed opponent of legalization. With the removal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, there are no more known opponents to legalization in the Trump administration. However, as Marijuana and the Law reported previously, the administration assembled a secret Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, whose job was to collect negative information on marijuana and its legalization from the various branches of the federal government, including what “threats” legalization posed to the nation. The committee may have had the backing of law enforcement groups and other traditional opponents of legalization that have traditionally found allies within the Republican Party. Trump himself, on the other hand, has voiced support for the states’ rights argument in favor of legalization. Nevertheless, the existence of the committee casts some doubt on the ultimate intentions of the administration toward legalization.
Mulvaney’s support of relaxation of federal marijuana law, however, is indicative of the influence of libertarian philosophy among conservative Republicans. For a growing number of Republicans, legalization of hemp and cannabis, especially at the state level, is no longer anathema. For example, one group, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP), describes itself as “a nonprofit organization and political caucus within the GOP that recognizes prohibition of marijuana to be a failed policy that undermines our liberties. We believe in the conservative principles of limited government, personal responsibility, economic opportunity, and fiscal responsibility.” The RAMP web site also mentions that “RAMP founder Ann Lee’s own story involves her realization that marijuana, a drug she once firmly believed was dangerous and addictive, was the best and only solution for the nerve pain son Richard Lee suffered after a workplace accident put him in a wheelchair as a paraplegic.” Although the Republican Party of Texas denied RAMP a booth at its convention in 2016, in 2018 the party endorsed decriminalization, medical marijuana, and legal industrial hemp.
As acting chief of staff of the Trump White House, Mulvaney may have little opportunity to influence marijuana policy, but his placement is one indication of many that the Republican Party is changing its views on cannabis and hemp. In 2018, industrial hemp was legalized, and in 2019, additional significant cannabis legislation may receive the president’s signature.
What do you think? Will 2019 be the year some major cannabis reform legislation becomes federal law? Leave a comment below.