White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday that President Trump "strongly believes" in enforcing federal law against marijuana possession, a major reversal from his campaign-trail support for state autonomy.
Sanders was responding to Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinding the 2013 Cole Memo, which gave states the go-ahead to unfurl regulated recreational pot markets.
Trump said repeatedly during the campaign that he supports state autonomy on recreational marijuana policy and that he supports legalizing medical pot.
Possessing, growing, and selling marijuana — either for recreational or medical use — is illegal under federal law, but deference to state law under the Obama administration allowed a multibillion-dollar state-legal industry.
"The president believes in enforcing federal law, that will be his top priority, and that is regardless of what the topic is, whether it's marijuana or whether it's immigration. The president strongly believes that we should enforce federal law," Sanders said at the daily White House briefing.
"The move that the Department of Justice has made, which my guess is what you're referencing, simply gives prosecutors the tools to take on large-scale distributors and enforce federal law," she said.
Sanders added: "The president's position hasn't changed but he does strongly believe that we have to enforce federal law."
If Sanders accurately described Trump's views, the president's position has changed significantly.
“I wouldn’t interfere because I think that really is a local issue. When you look at what’s happened in Colorado as an example, it’s a local thing,” Trump told CBS Boston in February 2017. “I wouldn’t interfere with it. I think that’s something that really is very much up to the local area.”
Forbes recounts several similar assurances, including Trump's statement at a campaign rally that "I really believe you should leave it up to the states. It should be a state situation … In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state by state.”
A recent Gallup poll found 64 percent support for legalizing recreational marijuana, including majority support among Republicans. Eight states and the nation's capital allow recreational marijuana and more than half allow the drug's medical use.
Sessions' decision to open the door to a federal crackdown triggered stiff pushback from some members of his own party, including Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who threatened to hold up legislative action, including confirming Justice Department officials, in response.