Donald Trump’s Forceful Yes on Medical Marijuana

Donald Trump Cannabis Now Magazine

A “loud and clear” change is coming in the public perception of cannabis, predicts Donald Trump.

Rand Paul aside, support for cannabis reform has been extremely scarce among Republican politicians seeking high elected office. That changed last week when the unquestioned Republican presidential frontrunner, Donald Trump of New York, said he absolutely, 100 percent, backed legal medical cannabis.

Last Wednesday morning after the New Hampshire primary, I wrote, “As an opportunist, Trump could consider cannabis reform if he were persuaded it helped him politically.”

Later that same day, Trump appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show and confronted a series of O’Reilly’s anti-pot arguments to say he smells that opportunity.

“Medical marijuana … medical? I am in favor of it 100 percent,” said Trump.

The conversation began when O’Reilly brought up Colorado’s now nearly $1 billion annual marijuana industry and asked Trump what should be done about “dealers” using legal cover to produce in Colorado and then go “zoomin’ around the country sellin’ it” illegally.

Trump did agree vaguely with the premise, but then immediately pivoted to tell O’Reilly the real problem is that his friends who need it can’t get medical marijuana.

“It’s a real problem. It’s a real problem. There’s another problem. In Colorado, you know, the book isn’t written on it yet, but there’s a lot of difficulty in terms of illness, and what’s going on with the brain and the mind, and what it’s doing. So, you know, it’s coming out probably over the next year or so, it’s going to come out loud and clear.”

O’Reilly pressed Trump to say what he would do if president.

“I would really want to think about that one, Bill, because in some ways, I think it’s good, and other ways it’s bad. I do want to see what the medical effects are. I have to see what the medical effects are.”

Trump returned to O’Reilly’s original point that there were “a lot of problems out there” in Colorado surrounding pot legalization and said he cared about addressing them.

When O’Reilly called medical marijuana itself “a ruse,” Trump rebutted the point with his personal experience in knowing people whose lives have been helped with medical use. With O’Reilly condescendingly “OK”-ing Trump to dismiss his point, Trump pushed forward.

“I know people that have serious problems, and they did that, and they really, it really does help them.”

For O’Reilly’s part, marijuana has long been a personal gripe. He famously derided Jon Stewart’s Daily Show audience as “stoners and slackers,” in 2004. That interview fueled a longtime, entertaining, point-counterpoint duel between the two influential television hosts when polling immediately revealed that Stewart’s “stoners” were far more informed than O’Reilly’s audience.

Trump’s position immediately becomes a more progressive stance than the one Hillary Clinton has taken. Clinton has taken the mildest possible approach to reform, keeping pot criminalized and only allowing research access on the level of cocaine or methamphetamine. Her primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, has called for marijuana to be unscheduled entirely and made legal, and he speaks to the injustices surrounding the criminalization of marijuana routinely in his stump speech and in debates.

Cannabis is a perfect example to illustrate a broader Trump candidate trait that too many commentators miss. Trump has shown dexterity in seizing issues that are deeply emotional to people and speaking directly to them. He’s a newcomer to running for or holding elected office, so he has more freedom to take more current consensus views toward which other politicians have had to “evolve,” lest they be punished politically. “Ronald Reagan was strong like me, and he used to be a liberal” seems to work well enough, or so says a thundering drumbeat of polls for the past eight months.

His operating theory is that by galvanizing more energy in the electorate from all sorts of emotional angles – that do not have to be ideologically coherent – he will gain attention, and attention leads to votes. It’s been a long time since anyone tried this in the rigid two-party system in a way that had a chance of working.

Which is itself part of the appeal. In Saturday night’s debate-for-the-ages in Greenville, South Carolina, Trump called himself a “common sense conservative.” He sees the pro-legalization polling among younger, potentially available and persuadable voters. He sees that the 2016 campaign so far has been a potential generational earthquake year. And he’s probably highly attuned to stories like the one Bill Maher spotlighted in his viral New Rule from last Friday night about a medically-suffering veteran who lost his kids over cannabis for moving to the wrong state. Trump isn’t a longtime cannabis advocate bravely standing up for an issue he believes in; cannabis injustice is simply the kind of emotional human content that strikes Trump as juicy for exploitation.

This is why Trump said this week he considers his pledge to not run as an independent null and void. His opportunism isn’t ideological.

Last week, he opportunistically took cannabis policy reform to a different level. If he faces Hillary Clinton in the fall and she does not modify her position, cannabis advocates will find themselves divided. Those advising Clinton would be wise to grasp this, and her ally President Obama still has time to take action that gives her cover. Trump has just outflanked Clinton to her left on marijuana.

What do you think? Could a presidential candidate’s viewpoint on marijuana change your vote?

Sean Quinn is an Oakland-based writer who co-pioneered FiveThirtyEight, earning national acclaim for his coverage of the presidential campaigns’ 2008 field operations. He dreams of a country where cannabis is legal, all Americans are treated equally under the law, and the St. Louis Blues are Stanley Cup Champions.

14 Comments

  1. E.j

    May 6, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    To vote for a president based on whether or not he will legalize pot’ even if the man is a bigoted misogynistic dangerous fool? Well that’s a huge disappointment to me to believe that those who use both medical and recreational cannabis would be so nearsighted as a collective group, to vote for him on the basis of his stand on legalization! Incredible, but then again I have been totally devastated by the course this country of mine has been taking with this election…

  2. Don Kiernan

    April 9, 2016 at 9:59 am

    I support the Legalization all Marijuana! If you Think that Trump would support any legislation on the Federal level you are delusional! Trump has Chris Christie ready to join his administration, possibly as attorney general! check out Christy’s position against medical marijuana! Christy blocked any marijuana legislation in New Jersey including Medical marijuana! Don’t trust anything Trump says! He is pandering for you vote!

  3. Diosa Planta

    February 27, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    I think legalizing marijuana for medical uses, would be normal if we think in all the benefits for the patients. I just don´t understand who are against of a medical solution for many tipes of pain.
    Just in this one i have the same opinion that Trump

  4. Khira

    February 21, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    I’ve replaced 7 prescription drugs and all OTC pain meds (like Advil and Tylenol wfuch can hurt you in excessive use) because of Medical Marijuana. I’m so proud that Trump is the only smart one to realize this plant has so many medicinal beifits. (Which is why I lost all respect for “DOCTOR” Carson who straight up said it was unhelpful. Wow. Getting funding through big pharm, Ben?) GI problems, sleep problems, agrophobia are just a few things that have been helped when I lived in a MMJ state. I had to move and have been in horrible shape since.

    I hope Donald holds up on this because I have been a big supporter to his go forth and conquer that just shows how much he cares about the country. How many politics can honestly say that? They just kiss ass to get to the top.

    And Bill is just as ignorant of he thinks it has no benefits. Even if it may be exchanged to non-medical users, HOW is this different to legal drugs like pain meds and Benzodiazepines? Which are far more dangerous to marijuana which has caused a total of zero deaths ever.

  5. David Martin

    February 20, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    If he’s a true opportunist from the business perspective, he has to move to full legal unless his buddies are trying to position themselves in the market. I heard he takes pride in going all the way.

  6. Deborah Coleman

    February 19, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    I’m a 56 year old medical cannabis patient. I replaced all pharmaceutical drugs September 2014. I was never a smoker. But after 30 years of pharmaceutical bullshit. . I tried it for chronic fibromyalgia pain. By January 2015, I was off all pharmaceutical drugs and all my numbers are within normal range. I was testing positive for Lupus for the past 8 years. Not anymore. I work out daily and I feel normal by using a cannabis every night before bed. ..instead of over 25 pills a day. Pharmaceutical drugs are poison.

  7. Alance

    February 18, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    It has been my observation that pro-war neocons of both parties, including Hillary and Obama, are against legalization and/or decriminalization of cannabis. Neocons would much rather start foreign wars than advocate cannabis.

    Trump is clearly not a neocon.

  8. Onemorething

    February 18, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    Bernie Sanders already filed a bill that would legalize it nationally

  9. Tom Tudo

    February 17, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    Now there’s a man who does what he means and means what he says. He said 100% medical marijuana and as far as recreational then let the states decide individually. Trump cares. Trump will change this rotten system. TRUMP 2016!

  10. Anntoinette Crouch

    February 17, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    Yes!

  11. agent11421

    February 17, 2016 at 2:28 pm

    Trump is right. People need Medical marijuana. But we cannot legalize it recreationally, because he Cartels will not allow it. There are billions oollars at stake which they cannot afford to lose.

    • Abner

      March 2, 2016 at 6:19 pm

      They can afford to sell it in the store and pay

  12. Buddy Love

    February 16, 2016 at 11:38 pm

    Not sure if we want Trump’s endorsement LOL

    • My2cents

      February 17, 2016 at 1:08 pm

      Trump will have my vote decriminalize and legalize.

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