PORTLAND, Maine — The Trump administration’s anti-marijuana move has some members of the president’s voting base fuming.
Fans of President Donald Trump who use marijuana say Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ move to tighten federal oversight of the drug is the first time they’ve felt let down by the man they helped elect. The move feels especially punitive to Trump voters who work in the growing industry around legalized marijuana that has taken root in states of all political stripes.
It remains to be seen whether Trump’s pot-loving voters will take their anger to the ballot box in 2018 and 2020. But pro-legalization conservatives are also chiding the administration’s anti-pot move as an affront to personal liberties and states’ rights.
“Trump needs to realize that a lot of his supporters are pro-cannabis and it would be extremely hurtful to them if he allowed Sessions to move forward with this,” said Damara Kelso, a Trump voter who runs Sugar Shack Farms, a marijuana farm in Eugene, Oregon. “It’s not lazy pothead stoners smoking weed all day in their parents’ basement.”
Sessions’ move allows federal prosecutors to decide what to do when state rules conflict with federal. It comes as legalization of marijuana is at an all-time high in popularity with Republicans.
A Gallup poll from last year found 51 percent of Republicans expressed support for legalization of the drug. It was the first time a majority of GOP supporters supported the idea and represented a jump of 9 percentage points from the previous year. In the early 2000s, only about one in five Republicans agreed with legalization.
Legalization has also flourished at the state level. Maine, Nevada, Massachusetts and California all voted to make recreational marijuana use legal for adults in 2016. It is also legal in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Washington, D.C. Alaska and Maine gave Trump electoral votes in 2016.
Marijuana legalization is typically most popular with the libertarian-leaning wing of the Republican Party. But any such Republicans who felt Trump would be a pro-marijuana president were misguided, said Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard University economist who studies the economics of libertarianism with a focus on illegal drugs.
Weed-loving Trump fans might be experiencing buyer’s remorse, but it’s too early to say whether that could make a difference at the voting polls, Miron said.
“Libertarians certainly knew when he appointed Jeff Sessions that there was a serious risk in an escalation of the war on drugs,” he said. “I think you get what you pay for.”
Still, some of Trump’s high-profile supporters are criticizing the move.
Roger Stone, a former Trump campaign adviser with whom the president has a long and rocky history, shared a video on Facebook on Jan. 7 urging Trump to support legalization and block Sessions’ move. And some Republicans in Congress have also slammed the decision.
“We have a Constitution to protect people from the federal government,” Republican Rep. Jason Lewis, R-Minnesota, a Trump voter, said in an interview. “This is a longstanding limited-government principle.”
Trump fans who use medical marijuana are also concerned they could lose access to treatment. In rural Fryeburg, Maine, college student Zac Mercauto drives two hours roundtrip, he said, to buy marijuana to manage chronic pain and other health problems. He said he would hate to lose that ability to federal politics.
Mercauto is also one of thousands of Mainers who helped give Trump his sole New England electoral vote. Unlike most states, Maine splits its electoral votes by congressional district, and Trump won the vast 2nd District, home to both New England conservatism and a marijuana culture.
Mercauto, who had his picture taken with Trump in 2016, said he is still a big fan of the president. But he believes the anti-pot move is bad for his state’s economy and health.
“I believe it’s going to take a hit at medical marijuana and the industry as a whole here in Maine,” he said. “It’s disappointing to see him take that stab at the industry. And I guarantee you all the tax money the state of Maine from medical marijuana really helps people all around.”