In late August, BuzzFeed News reported that The White House has secretly amassed a committee of federal agencies from across the government to combat public support for cannabis and cast state legalization measures in a negative light, while attempting to portray the drug as a national threat. The interviews with agency staff and procured documents obtained were conducted by BuzzFeed News.
The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, as it’s named in White House memos and emails, instructed 14 federal agencies and the Drug Enforcement Administration to submit “data demonstrating the most significant negative trends” about marijuana and the “threats” it poses to the country.
Ironically, in one particular memo, the committee complained that the narrative around cannabis is unfairly biased in favor of the drug. As the committee’s records show, The White House has opted to only to portray cannabis in a negative light, regardless of what the data shows, rather than seek objective information.
“The prevailing marijuana narrative in the U.S. is partial, one-sided, and inaccurate,” says a summary of a July 27 meeting of the White House and nine departments. In a follow-up memo, which provided guidance for responses from federal agencies, White House officials told department officials, “Departments should provide the most significant data demonstrating negative trends, with a statement describing the implications of such trends.”
The White House at one point said “more pot enforcement would be forthcoming,” however President Trump has never personally said he was onboard with that agenda. On his campaign trail prior to his election, Trump stated he “basically supports medical use of cannabis.” This summer, in June, he announced that he “really supports new bipartisan legislation in Congress that would let state marijuana legalization thrive.”
Several states have approved laws allowing adults to use and purchase cannabis. Critics have touted that over-acceptance of marijuana will promote drug abuse, particularly among youth, and they have pressed for a federal crackdown.
The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee’s hardline agenda and deep bench suggest an extraordinarily far-reaching effort to reverse public attitudes and scrutinize the states with cannabis laws. Its reports are to be used in a briefing for Trump “on marijuana threats.”
“There is an urgent need to message the facts about the negative impacts of marijuana.”
“Staff believe that if the administration is to turn the tide on increasing marijuana use there is an urgent need to message the facts about the negative impacts of marijuana use, production, and trafficking on national health, safety, and security,” says the meeting summary.
The White House declined to discuss the committee’s process, but indicated it was part of an effort to remain consistent with the president’s agenda.
Lindsay Walters, Deputy White House Press Secretary, told BuzzFeed News, “The Trump Administration’s policy coordination process is an internal, deliberative process to craft the President’s policies on a number of important issues facing the American people, and ensure consistency with the President’s agenda.”
All documents indicate that officials are seeking data that show marijuana consumption or legalization laws, which have been approved in eight states, do not serve any public benefit or do a better job of reducing drug abuse.
The committee met on July 27 with many of the largest agencies in the federal government, including the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and State. The meeting was coordinated by White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
An unclassified summary of the meeting, obtained by BuzzFeed News, says the memo is “predecisional and requires a close hold.” It also says the notes were not to be distributed externally.
The White House followed up the following week by sending agencies and other departments, including but not limited to the departments of Defense, Education, Transportation and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, instructions to submit two-page, bulleted fact sheets that identify marijuana threats and issues with the initiatives with a deadline of August 10th.
The spokespeople at those agencies declined to comment on the committee itself. Liz Hill, a spokesperson for the Education Department replied to an inquiry if they had submitted their response, “I’m told we did turn it in on time to The White House.”
A State Department spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, “The State Department regularly coordinates with ONDCP on a wide range of drug control issues. For specific questions about the Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, we refer you to ONDCP.”
Neither the ONDCP officials or White House press office responded to requests to comment on the committee.
Departments were told to “identify marijuana threats; issues created by state marijuana initiatives; and consequences of use, production, and trafficking on national health, safety, and security.”
The agencies should also provide an example of a “story, relating an incident or picture, that illustrates one or more the key areas of concern related to use, production, and trafficking of marijuana,” the White House guidance says. The agencies were asked to describe how the drug poses threats to their department and the consequences of marijuana “on national health and security.”
“We are asking each agency to provide information on marijuana,” White House ONDCP staffer Hayley C. Conklin wrote in an email to department leaders on August 1. She cited the guidance document, saying, “it will assist you in providing the appropriate information.”
While the vast majority of the 14 federal agencies declined to comment, however not a single department including the DEA, or the White House denied the cannabis committee’s existence.
While we’re not surprised at these skewed one-sided data collecting practices, the committee’s agenda betrays Trump’s pledges to protect states from federal intervention.
The White House made a statement last year that it expected “greater enforcement” of cannabis in states where it’s legal. President Trump has since suggested he’d support legislation to allow states to legalize cannabis untouched by the Justice Department. The move seemed to jab at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has relentlessly threatened a cannabis crackdown. As leader of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions has recited 1980s-style rhetoric about “saying no to marijuana.”
Cannabis currently commands overwhelming public support, with two out of three Americans favoring legalization. (See our story on Page 60). It’s hard for us to imagine, with President Trump running for re-election that he would alienate the desires of 66% of the public inevitably losing potential votes.
B. Le Grand