By Douglas Capraro
Needless to say, Donald Trump has spun a considerable amount of controversy over the past few months. You can even argue that his public diatribes have received an unwarranted amount of media coverage compared to the words of some other lesser-known, less sensationalized candidates running for the 2016 presidency.
No matter how pervasive you believe his presence may be though, it is imperative to analyze Trump’s actions now that he has taken the lead as the Republican frontrunner. And considering the possibility that this man may soon become the president of the United States, it is also important to hold him accountable for his stances on certain issues.
We discussed the importance that drug policy and criminal justice reform has had in our current election cycle. The policies introduced during then President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs continue to have a destructive effect on our society to this very day. Yet while many people on both sides of the political spectrum have come out in support of new, more sensible reform strategies, many influential policymakers are still in favor of upholding these ineffective policies. One of whom, you guessed it, is Donald Trump.
The strange thing about Donald Trump’s views on drugs though is that, for a person in his position of power, he had at one point expressed some of the most progressive stances on drug policy reform in the country. This is not to say that Trump is any stranger when it comes to changing his views on the issues. But considering how staunchly he now supports War on Drugs-type policies, it is a particularly surprising about-face for the Republican candidate to make.
So let’s take a look at how his opinions on drug policy have shifted over the years and what that could mean for our country.
Trump’s Stance on Drugs: Then
Although his current stance on drug policy include opposing marijuana legalization on a federal level, Trump did not only at one time support the legalization of marijuana, but he also supported the legalization of all drugs.
The evidence for this comes from a speech he gave at The Miami Herald’s Company of the Year luncheon in 1990. While addressing the luncheon’s 700 attendees, Trump made a hard case against the War on Drugs. “We’re losing badly the war on drugs,” Trump said. “You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”
He also blamed politicians who “don’t have any guts,” while also calling enforcement efforts “a joke.” Trump even proposed some reform strategies of his own, which included reallocating tax revenues from a legalized drug trade that “could be spent to educate the public on the dangers of drug use.” The reason he brought this up the luncheon in the first place is, in his own words, “because South Florida has such a huge problem with drugs.”
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
For one, the drug epidemic that we are going through today, which is centered primarily around New England, is much like the problems Trump said were happening in Florida at that time. In addition, his solutions for these problems, which included a belief in education over incarceration, are not too different from the progressive drug policy reform rhetoric spouted by groups like the Drug Policy Alliance.
Much like these groups, he also believed in opening up a conversation about drug policy reform to help raise people’s awareness about the issue: “What I’d like to do maybe by bringing it up is cause enough controversy that you get into a dialogue on the issue of drugs so people will start to realize that this is the only answer; there is no other answer,” Trump said.
Trump’s Stance on Drugs: Now
Considering the frequency in which Trump often changes his views on the issues, it should come as no surprise that his stance on drug policy have drastically changed. Since becoming a presidential candidate in the Republican primaries, Trump’s views on drug policy have become the diametric opposite of the opinions he once held a little over twenty years ago in Florida.
At the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump stated that he was completely against the legalization of recreational marijuana. He also deemed Colorado and Oregon’s “experiment” marijuana legalization to be a “bad idea.” Concerning Colorado in particular, Trump said during the first 2016 presidential debate on Fox News:
“If they vote for it, they vote for it. But they’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado — some big, big problems.”
It remains unclear though exactly what he means by “big, big problems,” especially with an overwhelming amount of evidence to support the contrary. On the other hand, he does concede that he is “100 percent” behind the legalization of medical marijuana, and that he also remains open to state’s rights to vote for the legalization of recreational marijuana.
What This Means For Us
So what does all of this mean for us as a country? In the event that Trump is elected president, it seems that we may be facing four more years of the some of same old drug policies we’ve held onto for over four decades. Although he has not come out totally in favor of increasing the criminalization of drug users like his peer Ben Carson, nor has he come out in opposition to harm reduction services like fellow presidential hopeful John Kasich, his staunch opposition to marijuana legalization is telling.
However, perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of Trump’s recent drug policy rhetoric is his overall uncertainty on the topic. Even after spouting rather declamatory opinions on marijuana and legalization at the first presidential debate, he has expressed some ambivalence about the topic elsewhere.
When he spoke to Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly just last month, he was questioned about whether he was concerned about the health risks connected to marijuana. Trump’s response was much more ambiguous than his explanation at the debate, saying: “I would, I would really want to think about that one Bill because in some ways, I think it’s good and in other ways, it’s bad.”
O’Reilly then asks him how he feels about the claim that drug dealers are “loading up” on marijuana in Colorado and then “zooming around the country” to sell it. Trump’s simply responds by saying “it’s a real problem” before changing the subject. He even concludes by contradicting his previous demonization of marijuana legalization by saying “in some ways, I think [legalization] is good.”
What’s off-putting about Trump’s lack of commitment to his own drug policy stances is the fact that it is hard to tell what he really believes in. Other candidates in both parties have been relatively candid about their stance on the issue and, at the very least, showed a certain level of commitment. Of course, Trump could simply be following the party line to help him win the candidacy. This would not be surprising considering the Republican party’s typically conservative stance on drugs. However, his inability to make up his mind or commit to his new beliefs is alarming for somebody who may one day have to make decisions for the entire country.