Wednesday, August 29, 2018
BuzzFeed reporting Trump Administration effort to assemble "data demonstrating the most significant negative trends" and "threats" posed by marijuana reforms
BuzzFeed News has this important scoop on an important effort by the Trump Administration to develop data and arguments against marijuana reform. The full title of the article provides a basic summary: "Inside The Trump Administration’s Secret War On Weed: The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee wants to counteract positive marijuana messages and identify problems with state legalization initiatives, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News." The whole piece is today's must-read, and here are highlights:
The White House has secretly amassed a committee of federal agencies from across the government to combat public support for marijuana and cast state legalization measures in a negative light, while attempting to portray the drug as a national threat, according to interviews with agency staff and documents obtained 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 this month to submit “data demonstrating the most significant negative trends” about marijuana and the “threats” it poses to the country.
In an ironic twist, the committee complained in one memo that the narrative around marijuana is unfairly biased in favor of the drug. But rather than seek objective information, the committee’s records show it is asking officials only to portray marijuana in a negative light, regardless of what the data show.
“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.”
As several states have approved laws allowing adults to use and purchase cannabis, critics have contended lax attitudes will promote drug abuse, particularly among youth, and they have pressed for a federal crackdown. The White House at one point said more pot enforcement would be forthcoming, though President Donald Trump has never said he was onboard with that agenda and he announced in June that he "really" supports new bipartisan legislation in Congress that would let state marijuana legalization thrive.
However, the committee’s hardline agenda and deep bench suggest an extraordinarily far-reaching effort to reverse public attitudes and scrutinize those states. Its reports are to be used in a briefing for Trump “on marijuana threats.”
“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....
Coordinated by White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 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. An unclassified summary of the meeting, obtained by BuzzFeed News, says the memo is “predecisional and requires a close hold.” And it says the notes were not to be distributed externally.
The White House followed up the next week by sending agencies and other departments — including 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 by Aug. 10....
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.”...
None of the 14 agencies BuzzFeed News contacted for this story, the DEA, or the White House denied the marijuana committee’s existence.
John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, blasted the committee’s slanted approach to the facts and the “alienating effort on behalf of the president. ” “This is a terrible political move by the administration,” he told BuzzFeed, saying that the committee’s agenda betrays Trump’s pledges to protect states from federal intervention — a position with overwhelming public support. Hudak added it would be “policy malpractice” to only collect one-sided data. “The coordination of propaganda around an issue that the president ostensibly supported is fairly unprecedented.”
“This is a president who is not serious about states rights and regulatory reform in areas like drug policy, and is not serious about telling the truth to the American people or members of Congress from his own party," Hudak said, pointing to Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, who authored legislation that would protect states rights on marijuana and has praised Trump on the issue.
I share John Hudak's concerns about the one-sided approach to collecting data that is apparently afoot inside the Trump Administration. But I am more generally inclined to complain about the last three administrations for their collective failure to take seriously and consider studying all the state policy initiatives that have developed in this space. State-authorized medical marijuana use has been going on now for more than two decades, and the array of state legal and policy developments in the marijuana space are too great to even take in completely. The feds for years should have been trying to study and assess the import and impact of state innovations, and I suppose I am a bit pleased to see someone is finally really trying to pay attention. I sure wish the folks inside the Beltway could pay attention without minds already made up, but I suppose there is a limit to what one can hope to get from our tax dollars at work.