Grading the Presidential Candidates on Cannabis: Donald Trump

Throughout the course of both of his initial candidacy and eventual presidency, the businessman-turned-reality TV star-turned-President and Republican frontrunner for the 2024 election, Donald Trump, had a rollercoaster of a political relationship with cannabis reform. From previous supportive comments to appointing people who were perhaps the physical embodiment of the failures of the drug war, pinpointing Trump’s true stance on cannabis seems to be a difficult task.

Overall Grade: C, possibly a C+ at best. Or any other possible letter.

Stance on marijuana

Unlike the incumbent President who has a nearly six-decade career in politics and spent several years authoring and sponsoring bills that exploded the scope of the Drug War, Trump’s actual political career has been very short in comparison. Therefore, he has never actually voted on a piece of cannabis legislation.

In a 2015 interview with Bill O’Reilly regarding cannabis, Trump made a comment that would certainly be construed as supporting at least medical cannabis usage. Even when O’Reilly, a longtime prohibitionist who utilized his massive platform to endlessly push drug war propaganda, referred to medical cannabis as a “ruse” for illicit usage, Trump deflected.

“But I know people that have serious problems and it (medical cannabis) really does help them. I do want to see what the medical effects are. I have to see what the medical effects are and, by the way — medical marijuana, medical? I’m in favor of it a hundred percent.”

During numerous interviews and rally appearances across America,  he repeated similar supportive comments for medical cannabis legalization yet skepticism at a fully recreationally legal cannabis marketplace, a stance very similar to fellow conservatives such as Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. On several other occasions, Trump took the neutral 10th Amendment stance of letting the states individually decide whether or not to legalize cannabis. Which we have already noted as a failure to lead.

One clear reason that Trump doesn’t receive a higher grade on cannabis reform is largely because of one specific Cabinet appointment of a Southern Senator who openly despised cannabis. As Trump’s first United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions did all he could within his grand power to go against state legal operators. His biggest measure in his failed crusade against legal cannabis was rescission of the Cole Memorandum, Obama-era guidance that had the practical effect of shielding fully state legal operators from federal interference. Unfortunately for the Attorney General, virtually no federal prosecutors went after state legal cannabis businesses and Sessions was essentially fired by Trump the day after the 2018 midterm elections.

Also, while it doesn’t necessarily mean that Trump is an ardent prohibitionist, he was endorsed by several different police unions and they’re notorious for wanting to keep the cannabis laws of yesteryear in place.

History with marijuana legislation

As mentioned above, it’s difficult to collect a history of legislation to determine exactly how Trump has previously voted on cannabis. There were notable cannabis bills filed in the United States Congress to deschedule and otherwise reform cannabis on the federal level during his presidency, but none of these pieces of legislation ever reached the Oval Office much less another house of the Legislature. Whereas Biden has decades worth of going against cannabis legalization and exponentially increasing the national prison population, Trump doesn’t have such history.

Although he knowingly appointed Sessions who famously stated that “good people don’t smoke marijuana”, he didn’t agree with his Attorney General on everything cannabis related. In 2018, only a few months before Sessions was out of a job, Trump said that he’ll “probably” support the STATES Act. Furthermore, Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which finally federally legalized the cultivation and production of industrial hemp and gave American farmers a new incredibly useful crop to grow.

In 2019, Trump signed the expansive and strongly bipartisan-supported First Step Act, which reformed certain federal sentencing guidelines which has caused the problem of American mass incarceration to reach the horrifying statistics that it has.

“This legislation reformed sentencing laws that have wrongly and disproportionately harmed the African-American community,” Trump said. “The First Step Act gives nonviolent offenders the chance to reenter society as productive, law-abiding citizens. Now, states across the country are following our lead. America is a nation that believes in redemption.”

Before leaving the White House in 2021, dozens of Trump’s last-minute pardons were convicted on non-violent cannabis charges and received steep sentences up to and including life imprisonment as well as other victimless drug offenders. On a personal level, Trump claims he does not consume either cannabis or alcohol and doesn’t advocate for intoxicant usage. He’s stated that a major influencing factor on his personal abstinence from intoxicants is due to the tragic fate of his brother Fred Trump Jr., an aspiring pilot who died of an alcohol-induced heart attack at only 42 years old.     

Past statements predict future outcomes

The reason Trump could have any other letter grade is because Trump could do anything, at any time. What he says on the campaign trail, or any other time, is not relevant. By the time he had reached the Presidency, he had taken 32 new stances on 13 different issues. From the time he was on the campaign trail, to the time he was in office, Trump had changed position on Immigration Reform, Entitlement Programs, Special Interest in Government and China, to name a few. Of course, not fulfilling campaign promises is a long-held tradition in American Presidents.

In and out of office, he has also shown that he will argue whatever legal principal meets his needs at the time. At least one person was able to find an opportunity by making actual flip-flops, out of Trumps flip-flops. In some sense, the grade seems almost impossible to give.


Trump’s exact stance on cannabis seems to flip flop and remain ambiguous. For just as many die-hard prohibitionists that he’s appointed and have otherwise supported or been supported by, he willingly signed the First Step Act and pardoned or commuted the sentence of several non-violent drug offenders. He frequently disagreed with Jeff Sessions’ fledgling crusade on cannabis and has cited his support for medical cannabis usage.

However, given his decades of experience as a businessman, economy and job creation naturally is Trump’s language. The Trump Organization employs thousands of people and as a candidate who ran so heavily on a platform of creating American jobs and bringing product creation back to American factories and facilities, Trump should be able to see that the American cannabis industry is the perfect example of all those values that he’s so familiar with. Perhaps his businessman mindset will be more at the helm of his 2024 campaign. He could easily make gains among the millions of moderate or more right-leaning Americans who openly support cannabis, including the economic benefits and criminal justice reform measures that legalization can provide.

For prior posts in this series, check out the following: