Donald Trump: Up in Smoke

Though President Trump has made suspense an early trademark of his presidency, on occasion it would be nice to know what he actually thinks. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s recent comments on marijuana have raised a lot of eyebrows. Donald Trump made the issue of states’ rights a large part of his platform during the campaign. Specifically, he made the promise that what he called federal overreach under Obama would now be left to individual states to design.

On the subject of marijuana, Donald Trump campaigned on essentially the same thing. In the beginning of his campaign, he claimed that legalization “should be a state issue, state-by-state”, a more nuanced take on his 1990 claims that “the United States should legalize drugs and use the money collected to educate the public on the dangers of drug use”.

Of course, Trump in word and in deed are two different things. Sean Spicer told the press that President Trump will be strictly enforcing the federal marijuana laws, especially in states which had voted to decriminalize or legalize recreational marijuana usage. This is a distinct 180 from the Obama administration’s assertion that there were bigger fish for the government to fry than legalized weed.

I want to credit President Trump for recognizing the value of medicinal marijuana, but with Trump, there’s always a catch. While claiming to know people who had experienced a decrease in suffering thanks to their usage of medical marijuana, Trump falsely linked the recent upsurge in opioid addiction to recreational marijuana usage. This is another reiteration of the gateway theory that people who try marijuana will find themselves unsatisfied by it eventually and will inevitably move onto harder drugs.

The gateway drug theory is controversial because it makes connections between the usage of marijuana and more serious drugs without accounting for the role of other socioeconomic factors. Among the things that increase the likelihood of hard drug use: poverty, the prevalence of drugs in a person’s immediate social group, mental illness, and even simple prohibition of said drugs, creating a forbidden fruit effect. Simply correlating marijuana with heroin once again ignores the role of mental health in shaping our society and is a form of intellectual laziness that helps no one.

The simplified correlation between marijuana and heroin use also overlooks the fact that the opioid epidemic is happening in America because of over-prescription. “Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) quadrupled”, claiming nearly half a million lives. There “has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report” but “the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled’ as well.

Even ignoring the false narrative about recreational marijuana that Trump and his administration are starting to spread, eliminating legal weed is just bad business. “The cannabis industry is projected to add more jobs over the next few years than manufacturing, the utility industry, or even the government” according to a recent article by Forbes. Medical and recreational marijuana are expected to bring in approximately $24.5 billion dollars in revenue by 2020, effectively creating the jobs that Trump campaigned on. The uniqueness of the industry appeals to people who would normally be alienated by conventional nine-to-five culture, with workers reporting being “genuinely happy with their employment”.

Colorado taxes marijuana three times: “when it is produced, sold, and bought”, and they use the money to effectively do exactly what Trump claimed to support at one time: of the $103.5 million dollars that was allocated for social programs from the first 18 months of revenue, $45.5 million was spent on “the prevention of youth marijuana use”, $40.4 million was spent on “treatment of substance use”, “12.4 million for public health”, and “$3.2 million for law enforcement and public safety”.

For Trump, the self-proclaimed “law and order candidate”, the legalization and taxation of marijuana effectively funds three of his stated goals: drug abuse prevention, job creation, and the funding of a more robust law enforcement. Of course, President Trump’s stance on an issue depends on which way the wind is blowing the day he articulates it, but it could only benefit the Trump administration to pay attention to what is already happening in this country and attempt to learn from it.


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