By Tom Angell
President Trump said during his 2016 election campaign that he supports the right of states to legalize marijuana and that he personally supports medical cannabis. But in signing a federal spending bill into law on Friday that contains a rider preventing the Justice Department from interfering in state medical marijuana laws, the president went out of his way to make clear that he reserves the right to ignore the cannabis provision.
“Division C, section 537, provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories,” he said in a signing statement. “I will treat this provision consistent with the President’s constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws of the United States.”
While the passage is a bit hard to parse on its own, here’s what you need to know:
Presidents typically use signing statements to flag provisions of laws they are enacting which they believe could impede on their executive authorities. By calling out the medical cannabis rider, Trump is making clear that his administration reserves the right to broadly enforce federal drug laws against people complying with state medical marijuana laws even though Congress just told him not to.
That being said, it does not mean that a crackdown is on the way—and this isn’t the first time Trump has singled out the marijuana rider, which has been part of annual federal spending legislation since 2014.
In May 2017, when signing that fiscal year’s appropriations bill into law, he included a very similar proviso in his signing statement.
“Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories,” he wrote at the time. “I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
But no raids against state-legal medical marijuana patients or providers followed, not even under ardently anti-cannabis then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Now, as Trump signs the new statement, he has a new attorney general, William Barr, who pledged during his confirmation hearing and in writing that he would not “go after” marijuana businesses operating under state laws, medical or otherwise.
The president’s new signing statement also calls out other sections of the large-scale annual funding bill, such as one requiring advance notice to Congress when carrying out certain military actions as well as provisions on recognizing foreign governments, receiving ambassadors and transferring Guantanamo detainees to the U.S., among several other issues.
Trump issued no such statement singling out provisions of any kind when he signed the 2018 spending bill into law.