WASHINGTON — President Trump said smoking weed makes people “lose IQ points” and get into accidents.
And he’s unsure whether the wave of marijuana legalization sweeping the country is “a good thing or a bad thing,” according to the leaked recording of a private dinner Trump held in 2018.
But Trump’s son Don Jr. piped up at that same dinner to assure the president that weed is less dangerous than booze.
“Alcohol does much more damage,” Don Jr. said. “You don’t see people beating their wives on marijuana. It’s just different.”
Trump’s skepticism about cannabis emerged on a recording of a donor dinner last April, released over the weekend by Lev Parnas, an ex-associate of Trump’s private attorney Rudy Giuliani. Parnas, a Soviet-born businessman, has become a central figure in Trump’s ongoing impeachment drama after helping Giuliani’s search for damaging information about former vice president Joe Biden in Ukraine.
Parnas split dramatically from Trump, however, and is now releasing a trove of records that provide a revealing glimpse into Trump’s private, inner world — including, most recently, a conversation about regulating the marijuana industry with a roomful of deep-pocketed donors at the dinner on April 30, 2018.
The recording of the intimate, jovial affair presents a portrait of President Trump discussing national cannabis policy with Parnas and his associate Igor Fruman — now facing serious criminal charges over their alleged attempts to use campaign contributions to obtain marijuana business licenses on behalf of a still-unnamed wealthy Russian investor, according to the federal indictment against them.
A month after the April 2018 dinner, Parnas and Fruman donated $325,000 to a Trump-supporting super PAC, America First Action, through a company they established to do business in the energy sector, called Global Energy Producers, although the indictment does not tie that donation directly to any potential marijuana business interests.
Parnas and Fruman were arrested in October and charged by federal prosecutors with campaign finance violations over the contributions. Both men have pleaded not guilty.
‘It does cause an IQ problem’
The video of the dinner, which was reportedly made by Fruman, opens with the image of Trump and Don Jr. posing for photographs before approaching a dining table bedecked with flowers. The camera was then apparently placed on the table facing the ceiling, although the audio continues and much of the subsequent conversation can be heard clearly, including when Parnas kicks off a conversation about weed.
Midway through the dinner, Parnas asks Trump about one of the legal marijuana industry’s major stumbling blocks: access to banks. Legal weed operators continue to face trouble performing basic banking operations, because marijuana is still a controlled substance at the federal level despite being legal in several states.
“Mr President,” Parnas says, “have you thought about allowing banking in some of these states that allow cannabis?”
Trump seems confused at first.
“You’re talking about marijuana, right?” Trump asks. “Why? You can’t do banking there?”
Then Trump turns skeptical about weed.
“I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” Trump says. “Do you think the whole marijuana thing is a good thing?”
Parnas tells Trump that legal cannabis represents a “tremendous movement,” and presents marijuana as a potential vote-getting issue among millennials for Republicans in the 2018 congressional midterms.
Legal marijuana is “the future, no matter how you look at it,” Parnas says.
Trump remains unmoved.
“In Colorado they have more accidents,” Trump says. “It does cause an IQ problem. You lose IQ points.”
Then, Don Jr. pipes up to praise the virtues of cannabis versus booze.
“Between that and alcohol, as far as I’m concerned, alcohol does much more damage,” Don Jr. says.
Parnas suggests Trump establish a “presidential committee on cannabis” to advise him on the issue. The panel could include such high-profile figures as former GOP House Speaker John Boehner, who’s become a marijuana industry lobbyist following his retirement from Congress, Parnas says.
The conversation eventually moves on without Trump making any promises or resolving his concerns — which have been the subject of dueling and inconclusive studies.
Trump’s remarks about the causal relationship between weed and IQ are disputed by one of his own governmental agencies, the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
“Recent results from two prospective longitudinal twin studies did not support a causal relationship between marijuana use and IQ loss,” NIDA says on its website. “No predictable difference was found between twins when one used marijuana and one did not.”
The agency does note, however, that a New Zealand study found that persistent marijuana use in adolescence was associated with lower test scores in middle age.
But NIDA noted that “observed IQ declines, at least across adolescence, may be caused by shared familial factors (e.g., genetics, family environment), not by marijuana use itself.” Researchers’ ability to draw definitive conclusions about the question is “limited” because in the real world, “study participants use multiple substances.”
There’s mixed research about Trump’s other claim, too, tying marijuana to accidents. Back-and-forth studies have turned up evidence both for and against that linkage.
A pair of studies released in late 2018 found an increase of up to 6 percent in highway crashes in four states where recreational marijuana is allowed. But another study from the American Journal of Public Health found that road accident deaths in Colorado and Washington state were the same as in states that still forbid pot smoking.
“Three years after recreational marijuana legalization, changes in motor vehicle crash-fatality rates for Washington and Colorado were not statistically different from those in similar states without recreational marijuana legalization,” the study authors wrote.
Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Oval Office announcing guidance on constitutional prayer in public schools on January 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)