Photographer: James MacDonald/Bloomberg

Trump Spurns Congress as He Signals Medical Marijuana Fight

  • Not bound by bar against interfering in state laws, he says
  • Signing statement rebuts numerous congressional limits

President Donald Trump signaled he may ignore a congressional ban on interfering with state medical marijuana laws, arguing in a lengthy statement that he isn’t legally bound by a series of limits lawmakers imposed on him.

Trump issued the “signing statement” Friday after he signed a measure funding the government for the remainder of the federal fiscal year, reprising a controversial tactic former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama used while in office.

Jeff Sessions addresses law enforcement members on March 31.

Photographer: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

Trump also suggested he may ignore gender and racial preferences in some government programs as well as congressional requirements for advance notice before taking a range of foreign policy and military actions.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has vowed to crack down on marijuana and has dismissed arguments for its medical use as “desperate.”

“I reject the idea that we’re going to be better placed if we have more marijuana,” Sessions said in a speech to law-enforcement officials in March. “It’s not a healthy substance, particularly for young people.”

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico now allow for medical marijuana use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Trump argued in the statement that his constitutional prerogatives supersede the restrictions Congress placed on him as a condition for funding government operations.

Power Struggle

Steve Bell, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, said Trump’s signing statement signaled a desire to usurp power from the legislative branch.

“It is the constitutional prerogative of the Congress to spend money and to put limitations on spending,” Bell, a former staff director of the Senate Budget Committee and an aide to former Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, said by phone. “This is an extremely broad assertion of executive branch power over the purse.”

In the signing statement, Trump singled out a provision in the spending bill that says funds cannot be used to block states from implementing medical marijuana laws.

“I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” he said.

Making a Statement

Obama also occasionally released signing statements objecting to congressional restrictions on his authority. The White House described Trump’s signing statement as routine, but did not indicate whether the president planned to take action to defy Congressional restrictions.

Bell said Trump’s stance on the medical marijuana provision in the bill was at odds with the 10th Amendment, which protects states from federal overreach.

Tim Shaw, a senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said that the president is bound by the language in the spending bill that now bears his signature.

“Part of the argument here in this signing statement is that he has the constitutional requirement to execute the law,” Shaw said in an interview. “But this is one of those laws, and Congress has the ultimate authority over funds getting spent.’’

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