One of DJT’s many virtues is that he does not slavishly adhere to positions he has publicly taken when he either (a) forgets that he took them or (b) is reminded by someone with whom he happens to agree at that moment that earlier positons were wrong. This was forcefully brought home on May 5, 2017, when DJT released his budget for 2018, an event that followed a DJT appearance that took place a few weeks earlier. (It is of course, also shown by the fact that he forgot how much he appreciated Jim Comey’s work prior to firing him, but that is for another time.)
On March 29, 2017, DJT took part in what was, without even a hint of irony, described as a “listening session” on Opioids and Drug Abuse. In welcoming his guests, DJT praised his Secretary of Defense and Homeland Security, John Kelly, who, DJT said, had done an amazing job. As proof, DJT said that: in terms of people and the drugs that are being stopped it is “down 61 percent at the border right now. . . . “That is an extraordinary result since at the time DJT spoke, Mr. Kelly had only been in office for eight weeks. Employing the enthusiastic, if incomprehensible rhetoric for which he is known (when speech replaces tweets), DJT said: “This is a total epidemic and I think it’s probably almost untalked about compared to the severity that we’re witnessing.” If ever there was a clarion call to action, that was it, and it was addressed for the next two hours by the participants in the meeting. At the end of the meeting, DJT was asked whether he was taking it (the drug issue) on the road. He responded, “Yes, we will. It’s a big issue-very very big issue.” When DJT got on the road, as it were, a strange thing happened. He got lost.
May 5, 2017, DJT’s support for greater activity with respect to what he had described as the “crippling problem throughout the United States” of drug abuse, disappeared. Its magical disappearance was effected by the release of DJT’s budget for 2018. The proposed budget cut funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy from $388 million to $24 million, a 95% reduction. If implemented, the office will lose 33 employees.
Rich Baum, the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy who had been appointed by DJT, and attended the listening session, was blindsided, saying: “These drastic proposed cuts are frankly heartbreaking and, if carried out, would cause us to lose many good people who contribute greatly to O.N.D.C. P’s mission and core activities. I don’t want to see this happen.” It is reported that if the funding cuts take place, the high-intensity drug-free communities support program would come to an end as would the high-intensity drug trafficking program.
Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is the co-author of a major opioids bill that was passed in 2016. He said of the proposed cuts: “We have a heroin and prescription drug crisis in this country and we should be supporting efforts to reverse this tide, not proposing drastic cuts to those who serve on the front lines of this epidemic.”
The cuts do not affect DJT’s approach to medical marijuana issues. Like his position on drug control, his approach to marijuana has undergone a transmogrification.
The budget bill that cut funding for the O.N.D.C.P. that DJT signed, also includes a provision known as the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment. That amendment bars the Justice Department from using any appropriated funds to interfere with implementation of state laws governing the use of medical marijuana. That provision is consistent with the DJT position as expressed by him during the 2016 campaign. He repeatedly said that dealing with marijuana legalization was up to the states. In one interview he said: “I do like it, you know, from a medical standpoint. . . it does do pretty good things. But from the other standpoint, I think that it should be up to the states.” Apparently seconding the DJT campaign position, Sean Spicer, DJT’s press secretary, spoke about DJT’s attitude towards medical marijuana in a press briefing. He said: “[I] think the president understands that [medical marijuana] can be a vital part of treatment, especially for terminally ill patients and people facing certain kinds of medical things. . . . but there is a big difference between the medical and the non-medical.”
At the signing of the appropriations bill on May 5th that includes the ban on using federal funds to block medical marijuana use in states, DJT had forgotten what he’d said a few months earlier and what Mr. Spicer said he believed. Referring to the Amendment that says federal funds cannot be used to block implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories, DJT said that he had a “responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” thus suggesting that he might, (if he remembered), ignore the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment and permit the justice department to challenge states that permit the use of medical marijuana. That will please Attorney General Jeff Sessions who has said that marijuana is only slightly less awful than heroin, thinks “Medical marijuana has been hyped too much” and has said arguments for its medical use are “desperate.” It will disappoint the terminally ill and others, who only weeks ago, were described by DJT as benefitting from its use. Quite sad.