White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017. SHAWN THEW / EPA

White House abandons consistency when applying alleged principles

At yesterday’s White House press briefing, Sean Spicer was asked about the Trump administration’s shift away from protections for transgender kids. The president’s spokesperson had a talking point he repeated over and over again.

“It’s a states’ rights issue,” Spicer said. “And that’s entirely what [Donald Trump] believes – that if a state wants to pass a law or rule, or an organization wants to do something in compliance with the state rule, that’s their right. But it shouldn’t be the federal government getting in the way of this.” He added, “We are a states’ rights party. The president on a lot of issues believes in these various issues being states’ rights.”

In all, the press secretary referred to “states’ rights” eight times yesterday.

Spicer, however, did not use the phrase when the discussion turned to marijuana use.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said he expects the Justice Department to increase enforcement of laws prohibiting the recreational use of marijuana, a departure from the Obama administration’s less aggressive stance as states began legalizing recreational as well as medical use of the drug.

“There are two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana,” Spicer told reporters Thursday. “There’s still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”
Asked if the Trump administration intends to take action in states that have legalized recreational marijuana, the press secretary said, “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement” of existing federal law.

In other words, the Trump White House is absolutely committed to states’ rights, except when it isn’t.

For those unfamiliar with the broader debate, let’s quickly review. There have been some historic breakthroughs in recent years on U.S. drug policy, with voters in several states approving ballot measures to legalize recreational or medicinal marijuana use. These state-based policies have been allowed to proceed because the Obama administration extended its approval.

But it didn’t have to. As we’ve discussed, under federal law, officials could have ignored voters’ will and blocked those policies from advancing. State experimentation has been allowed to flourish because President Obama and his team adopted a progressive approach to the issue.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions prefers the opposite approach.

Politico recently published a piece on the Alabama senator’s record on the issue: “In April, he said, ‘Good people don’t smoke marijuana,’ and that it was a ‘very real danger’ that is ‘not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.’ Sessions … has called marijuana reform a ‘tragic mistake’ and criticized FBI Director James Comey and Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch for not vigorously enforcing a the federal prohibition that President Obama has called ‘untenable over the long term.’”

Obama has permitted states to pursue their own course, but federal law has not changed as it relates to illegal drugs, including marijuana. Sessions has the authority to – at a moment of his choosing – effectively undo the voter-endorsed state marijuana laws and reverse all of the recent progress on the issue.

According to Sean Spicer, that’s precisely what Americans should expect, states’ rights be damned.