Unpacking Donald Trumps Statements On Cannabis Users

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Impeached US President Donald Trump has been heard on recently leaked tapes from April 2018 making disparaging statements about cannabis during a conversation from a dinner attended by some key figures in the current Ukraine scandal (who have since been arrested). One of whom, Lev Parnas, who he is heard speaking to directly in the tape, Trump claims he’s doesn’t know. It has since been made clear that Trump not only knows Parnas but has spoken and worked with him time and time again. This is a recurring theme throughout his presidency.

I am going to do my best to remain neutral throughout this article, as this is not a partisan issue. Instead, it is an issue that actually affects every American. Whether pro or anti-cannabis, the ramifications from how the federal government addresses cannabis prohibition will be felt by all. And since the US is such an influential super-power, the ripples of its decisions can be felt across the world. I think wherever you fall on the political spectrum, all can agree that America’s failed War on Drugs has impacted countless lives with little to show for it.

A significant amount of the enthusiasm felt by Donald Trump supporters in 2016 was his belief that he was an independent thinker. His ‘drain the swamp’ rhetoric promised a change in not only the oval office but in the entire upper levels of the American government. Whether or not he has fulfilled that promise is up for you to decide. What I’m asking you to consider is his impact, or lack thereof, on cannabis prohibition.

In the lead up to the election, promises were made to help medical cannabis users, however, most have been left in the cold, either forgotten or ignored by the president.

Trump has more to worry about that was on that tape than his confusion on the cannabis industry. Nevertheless, what can we learn from the president’s statements on cannabis?

The Setting

It would appear the tape came from a dinner party attended by members of the Trump family, as well as Republican donors. This was well before the Ukraine scandal had gone public. However as heard in the tape, Trump was already setting the wheels in motion for what would eventually lead to his impeachment.

The Tape

Lev Parnas, who at the time was very close to the Trump administration, has since split from the president and has begun speaking out against him. Parnas is one of the key figures involved in the Ukraine scandal. As a result, Trump denies ever knowing Parnas at all. This is how we got the tape in the first place.

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Lev Parnas

In the tapes, Parnas can be heard inquiring about the president’s thoughts on cannabis legalization, specifically in regards to access of federal banks. Until recently, cannabis companies, even those existing in legal states, were barred from using federal banks. This made the entire industry much more dangerous and volatile as it depended entirely on cash. This made dispensaries robbery targets as everyone knew that they could only accept cash.

  • Parnas: Mr. President…
  • Trump …what?
  • Parnas: Have you thought about allowing banking in some of these states that allow cannabis? …To allow them to bank the money?
  • Trump: Yeah, and what led cannabis, look, you mean you’re talking about marijuana right?… They can’t do banking there?
  • Trump: Yeah, yeah, it’ll be. It’s all working out…

The conversation continues with Parnas doing his part in trying to convince Trump how his support of cannabis legalization would positively influence public opinion of him before the upcoming mid-terms.

This is where it gets very interesting. Until now, we have not heard a lot from Donald Trump on his thoughts on legal cannabis. What does he think about its potential? From the audio, it would appear he is not sure himself. 

  • Trump: Do you think the whole marijuana thing is a good thing?
  • Several people in the background pipe in with an enthusiastic “No!”
  • Unknown Person: Nope! I can’t even hire people now.
  • Parnas: I think it’s a combination. I think it’s something that is the future, no matter how you look at it. I think it’s something that is so far out that you’re not going to stop it…you need to be ahead of it and I think you need to control it.
  • Trump: In Colorado, they have more accidents. It does cause an IQ problem. (As Vice points out, there is no conclusive evidence to support either of his claims. In fact, some studies straight-up disagree with him. )

The conversation continues with Parnas attempting to make the case for legalizing cannabis. At one point Trump does concede that it helps with opioids. Assuming he meant it’s proven efficacy in treating addiction for those caught in the opioid crisis, which, according to the official White House website, President Trump is determined on ending in his presidency, why has he not taken more action towards implementing this solution? Why was he unaware that companies couldn’t even access banks?

A promising moment from an otherwise anti-cannabis conversation is when the president’s own son chimes in.

  • Donald Trump Jr.: I’ll say this; between that (cannabis) and alcohol, as far as I’m concerned alcohol does much more damage…. You don’t see people beating their wives on marijuana. It’s just different.

Takeaways

It is troubling to hear the president of one of the most powerful countries in the world have such an archaic and dated view of cannabis users. Trump loves to remind people of his business acumen, even if the reality is far from the truth. How then, can someone so obsessed his countries economy, pass up the potential millions that could be made from the legalization of cannabis. It raises the question of what other influences are at play. It’s no secret, conservatives have a long and well-documented history of opposing cannabis for moral reasons. The truth behind their motives has become much clearer over time. As we’ve discussed in the past; the public War on Drugs was a war on people of colour and disadvantaged communities. As top Nixon aide, John Ehrlichman explained:

“You want to know what this was really all about. The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

 

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The Senate Impeachment Trials are well underway.

 

So, as we sit here in 2020, with the future of the president in question as his impeachment trial is underway in the senate, we must ask ourselves. What is stopping Trump from supporting the legalization of cannabis? Is it a sincere, yet unfounded fear of damage to the user? Or is it something more insidious? Does he recognize the same power to control populations that Nixon did? The money is right, so the only question that remains is, what is stopping him?

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