Cannabis policy of the Donald Trump administration

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The Donald Trump administration took positions against marijuana and against the easing of laws regarding marijuana.[1] Although Trump indicated during his 2016 presidential campaign that he favored leaving the issue of legalization of marijuana to the states, his administration subsequently upheld the federal prohibition of cannabis, and Trump's 2021 fiscal budget proposal included removing protections for state medical marijuana laws.[1] In 2018, the administration rescinded the 2013 Cole Memorandum, an Obama-era Justice Department policy that generally directed federal prosecutors not to pursue marijuana prosecutions in states where marijuana is legal as a matter of state law.[2]

Early statements[edit]

At a press conference in February 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicated that the federal government could pursue greater enforcement of federal anti-marijuana laws, with the U.S. Department of Justice under Trump "further looking into" states where recreational marijuana was legal as a matter of state law.[3][4] Spicer distinguished between recreational marijuana use and medical marijuana use, suggesting that Trump "understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing, especially terminal diseases, and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them."[5] Spicer stated that the administration believed there was a link between recreational marijuana use and opiate abuse, despite current studies that show the reverse and that marijuana use actually results in a lower incidence of opiate abuse.[6][7][8][9]

Rescission of the Cole Memorandum and Obama-era non-interference policy[edit]

On January 4, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded three Obama-era memos that had adopted a policy of non-interference with states that have legalized recreational marijuana, including the 2013 Cole Memorandum.[2]

In April 2018, after U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (Republican of Colorado), threatened to block the appointment of 20 Justice Department nominees in response to the Cole Memorandum's rescission, Gardner said that he had made a deal with Trump in which the administration said it would uphold the rights of states to regulate cannabis within their associated jurisdictions and assured states with legalized cannabis that the rescission of the Cole Memo would not subject them to federal prosecutors.[10]


One of the first official statements on Trump administration's policies came in May 2017, when Trump, when signing 2017 omnibus appropriations bill, included a signing statement, said that his administration could ignore the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment (formerly the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment), which prohibits the use of federal funds to prosecute persons for medical marijuana activities that are legal under applicable state law.[11][12] Trump's signing statement suggested that the congressional limitation on spending authority did not legally bind him.[12]

In June 2018, Trump stated that he would "probably" support the STATES Act, a bipartisan bill that would effectively end the federal prohibition on marijuana and leave the issue up to the states.[13][14]

Response of the states[edit]

Map of cannabis laws in the US
Legality of cannabis in the United States
  Legal for recreational use
  Legal for medical use
 D  Decriminalized
· Reflects law of states and territories, including laws which have not yet gone into effect. Does not reflect federal, tribal, or local laws.
· Hemp and hemp-derived products have been legal since the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill.

As of 2019, thirty-seven states have legalized marijuana for medical use. Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Michigan, and Washington and the District of Columbia have legalized it for recreational use as well.[15] In April 2017, the governors of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington sent a letter to the U.S. administration urging continuation of Federal policy under the Cole Memorandum.[16]

In response to the February 2017 announced crackdown:

  • Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson stated Washington will defend its marijuana laws: “I will resist any efforts by the Trump administration to undermine the will of the voters in Washington state,” Ferguson said in an interview. On February 15, Ferguson and Governor Jay Inslee sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions stating that illegal dealing in the State of Washington has been replaced with a tax-paying regulated industry, and the move has freed up law enforcement officers for other duties. Ferguson and Inslee's letter told Sessions that "Given the limited resources available for marijuana law enforcement, a return to 'full' prohibition’ is highly unlikely to end the illicit production, trafficking and consumption of marijuana."[17][18]
  • Nevada Senate Majority Leader Aaron D. Ford called on the state's attorney general to "vigorously defend" the state's laws legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana. Ford saying that "Any action by the Trump administration would be an insult to Nevada voters and would pick the pockets of Nevada's students."[18][19]
  • U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon responded to the intended crackdown, by calling on the federal government to respect the decision of Oregon voters to legalize marijuana and saying that "the Trump administration is threatening states' rights, including the rights of one in five Americans who live in a state where marijuana is legal.” He stated he would ask the state to oppose federal government intrusion into the state.[20]


  1. ^ a b Brendan Bures, Trump administration doubles down on anti-marijuana position Archived December 7, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, Chicago Tribune Content Agency (February 21, 2020).
  2. ^ a b Sadie Gurman (January 4, 2018). "Sessions terminates US policy that let legal pot flourish". Associated Press. Archived from the original on January 21, 2020. Retrieved February 15, 2021.
  3. ^ John Wagner; Matt Zapotosky (February 23, 2017). "Spicer: Feds could step up enforcement against marijuana use in states". Washington Post. Archived from the original on June 6, 2020. Retrieved June 6, 2020.
  4. ^ Lopez, German (February 23, 2017). "Sean Spicer just said we should expect an anti-marijuana crackdown under Trump". Archived from the original on May 22, 2017. Retrieved February 15, 2021.
  5. ^ Rogers, Kate (February 24, 2017). "Marijuana entrepreneurs try to stay calm after Spicer comments on weed". CNBC. Archived from the original on October 24, 2017. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
  6. ^ Lee, Kurtis (February 21, 2017). "Here's what's driving lawmakers working to legalize recreational pot in 17 more states". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 23, 2017. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  7. ^ Simmons, Kate McKee (February 23, 2017). "Trump Spokesman Predicts Greater Enforcement of Federal Marijuana Laws".
  8. ^ Mali, Meghashyam (February 23, 2017). "White House hints at crackdown on recreational marijuana". Archived from the original on October 29, 2019. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  9. ^ Williams, Trey. "Expect 'greater enforcement' of marijuana laws under Trump, Spicer says". Archived from the original on May 30, 2019. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  10. ^ Herrington, A.J. (April 13, 2018). "Trump Makes Deal to Protect States with Legal Cannabis". High Times. Archived from the original on April 21, 2018. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  11. ^ "Trump and Sessions at odds over prosecuting legal marijuana states". September 8, 2017. Archived from the original on November 10, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  12. ^ a b Toluse Olorunnipa (May 6, 2017), Trump Questions Legal Binds on His Spending in Signing Statement, Bloomberg News, archived from the original on May 8, 2017, retrieved February 15, 2021
  13. ^ Sullivan, Eileen (June 8, 2018). "Trump Says Hs Likely to Back Marijuana Bill, in Apparent Break With Sessions". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 29, 2019. Retrieved March 1, 2019.
  14. ^ Wagner, John; Itkowitz, Colby (June 8, 2018). "Trump says he 'probably' will support bill to protect states that have legalized marijuana". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on March 1, 2019. Retrieved March 1, 2019.
  15. ^ Kumar, Anita; Hotakainen, Rob (February 23, 2017). "Donald Trump plans to go after recreational marijuana use". The Olympian. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  16. ^ Brian Heuberger (April 19, 2017), "Governors of marijuana states urge Trump administration to maintain "hands off" marijuana policies", The Colorado Statesman, archived from the original on May 18, 2017, retrieved April 21, 2017
  17. ^ "Washington state will resist federal crackdown on legal weed, AG Ferguson says". February 23, 2017. Archived from the original on January 9, 2020. Retrieved February 15, 2021.
  18. ^ a b "Trump administration plans crackdown on recreational marijuana". Archived from the original on March 27, 2019. Retrieved February 15, 2021.
  19. ^ "Cannabis industry roiled by White House comments on enforcement". USA Today. Archived from the original on August 7, 2017. Retrieved September 4, 2017.
  20. ^ Borchardt, Debra. "The Cannabis Industry Is On High Alert After Sean Spicer Suggests Feds Will Crack Down On Marijuana". Forbes. Archived from the original on August 14, 2019. Retrieved February 15, 2021.