Aside from drone warfare and domestic spying, Donald Trump is embracing at least one innovation from the Barack Obama days.
Within days of taking office, Trump’s people scrubbed climate change science from the EPA website, but in a nod to the power enjoyed by online mobs in the Trump era, his administration has thus far left the Whitehouse.gov petition pages untouched. This is the perfunctory nod to “people power,” where anyone can create a petition or other ask of the executive branch, who is supposed to issue a response once 100,000 people or more sign on to the idea.
And just like in Obama days, there’s a marijuana-related petition gaining signatures that’s asking Trump to please, please, leave marijuana alone—just as he promised he would on the campaign trail. (Which is yet another thing Donald Trump has in common with Barack Obama, aside from an address and access to the nuclear codes.)
“[D]uring the campaign President Trump repeatedly pledged that if elected the federal government would respect the rights of states to enact their own cannabis laws. That is a wise policy supported by a growing super-majority of voters,” the petition reads in part. “Please keep your promise to the American people.”
The past few weeks have been full of bellicose rhetoric on drug policy. Several times, Trump has come within a hair of declaring a “new” out-and-out War on Drugs.
Speaking to law enforcement leaders on Feb. 8, Trump vowed to “take [the] fight to the drug cartels” to “liberate our communities from their terrible grip of violence.” In the weeks since that speech, Trump’s attorney general and the White House’s official spokesman have done nothing but inflame tensions, in particular among the (mostly) law-abiding state-legal cannabis industries in states like Colorado, California, Washington and Oregon.
Press flack Sean Spicer started it when he suggested cannabis would soon be subject to “greater enforcement” from federal authorities. A few days later, all-purpose comic-book villain Attorney General Jeff Sessions made it worse when he claimed, without any basis in fact, that marijuana legalization was causing an uptick in violence and that the notion cannabis could alleviate rather than exacerbate the opiate crisis—a notion based on scientific studies—was farcical.
A sudden turn towards prohibition would be a new thing for the president.
As Politifact recently pointed out, Trump voiced support for respecting state law on medical cannabis and marijuana legalization “at least three times,” in interviews and at rallies in Michigan, Colorado and Nevada.
Here he is on television in Colorado, speaking on July 29, 2016—after his nomination, and after the dark and ominous “law and order” nomination speech—on whether he’d allow the Justice Department or other federal authority to circumvent state marijuana programs.
““I wouldn’t do that, no … I wouldn’t do that,” he said. “I think it’s up to the states, yeah. I’m a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.”
Here he is in Nevada, in 2015. He even praises his weed-minded interlocutor for asking a “good question.”
Of course, this is Trump the candidate on the campaign trail in marijuana-friendly states, talking to the voting public—who, poll after poll shows, are almost uniformly marijuana friendly.
Seventy-one percent of voters say they oppose a federal crackdown on state-legal cannabis, and several of the states responsible for handing Trump his historic victory in November have recently adopted medical marijuana programs.
Under Obama, the petitions worked well—too well. So well, in fact, that the threshold to trigger an official response from the White House was raised from 5,000 signatures to 100,000. And even then, petitions with signatories well into the six figures weren’t guaranteed a substantive response.
After a petition to reschedule or at least reexamine the federal government’s blanket, unscientific and paleolithic marijuana ban gained the necessary digital signatures, the Obama White House chose its drug czar to issue a boilerplate, ideological response that failed to answer the question.
Trump’s marijuana petition needs about 71,000 more signatories to trigger a response—that is, if Trump and his team bother to acknowledge the Whitehouse.gov petitions at all. So far, they are not: Another petition, this one demanding Trump release his tax returns, has well over one million signatories—and Trump’s IRS filings are still an official state secret.