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Gazette exclusive: A closer look at how the feds' marijuana move contradicts what Trump said in Colorado Springs

January 16, 2018 Updated: January 17, 2018 at 7:17 am
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photo - Presidential candidate Donald Trump meets with the editorial board of The Gazette Friday, July 29, 2016,  before a rally at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Presidential candidate Donald Trump meets with the editorial board of The Gazette Friday, July 29, 2016, before a rally at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recent decision to clear the way for possible enforcement of federal laws that outlaw marijuana contradicts what Donald Trump told The Gazette during his presidential campaign.

During a conversation with The Gazette's editorial board in July 2016, Trump, then the GOP nominee, repeatedly pledged that he would respect states' legalization laws and take a wait-and-see approach to enforcing federal law.

Asked directly by editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen if, as president, he would order enforcement of federal marijuana law, Trump responded: "Officially, I'm in favor of medical marijuana. For legalization, I have been in favor of states' rights. In other words, let the states work it out."

"We wanted to know Trump's views on legalized recreational pot, so we discussed it with him for 10 minutes," Laugesen said last week. "We demanded to know if he might enforce federal law in states that have legalized, and received nuanced discussion about states' rights and his concern the legalization movement might reveal damage to children."

Trump also said: "I have always been a person that says, 'Let's see what happens in Colorado.' Because you're doing a great test to see what happens, and I like the idea of a state making that decision.

"I believe if people vote for it, that's the way it should go. Colorado is an example of that. It's states' rights."

Sessions' decision to undo the Cole Memo, which limited Justice Department reach in states with legal pot, frees federal prosecutors in Colorado and other states that have legalized pot to enforce the federal ban on marijuana, though no prosecutors in Colorado have said they will amp up enforcement.

"It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law," Sessions said in a statement announcing his memorandum.

The decision "has trampled on the will of the voters," tweeted Colorado's U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican.

"In 2016, President Trump said marijuana legalization should be left up to the states, and I agree," Gardner said.

During his interview with Gazette editors, Trump did say he had concerns about how marijuana legalization is playing out in Colorado.

"I've heard mixed reports. I've heard people are going absolutely psycho, they're getting crazy, and they are having tremendous automobile accidents, and things are happening that never happened before," Trump said. "Then I'm hearing from a lot of people it's working OK.

"I don't like the idea if tremendous trauma is caused to the young children, to the 10-year-olds, and I've heard that. We're getting to a point where people are able to see what's going on. I want to see what happens in Colorado."

Since Trump's Colorado campaign stop, California moved to legalize recreational marijuana.

"A president's views on marijuana have never been more important, with the country's largest state - the world's sixth-largest economy - choosing to legalize," Laugesen said. "Our discussion may provide the most comprehensive view into what Trump is likely to do regarding legalized, recreational pot."

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Vince Bzdek is editor of The Gazette.

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