Hours after a Quinnipac University poll found that 71 percent of U.S. voters believe the government should not enforce federal laws in states that have passed recreational cannabis laws, the White House said there will be a crackdown on the adult-use marijuana industry.
“I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of it,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer at Thursday’s press briefing. “I believe that [the Department of Justice is] going to continue to enforce the laws on the books with respect to recreational marijuana.”
Spicer cited the opioid crisis as reason for the President’s new tougher stance, saying, “I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people,” Spicer said to a room full of reporters.
However, a recent study found the opposite: States that have legalized cannabis have lower rates of opioid abuse.
When Spicer was pressed for clarification if he did mean “greater enforcement,” he doubled down and said the DOJ is “going to continue to enforce the laws on the books with respect to recreational marijuana.” He indicated that law enforcement officials would not be targeting medical marijuana businesses.
Cannabis Business Times (CBT) reached out to the DOJ for further clarification. The department declined to comment. The cannabis industry, however, was quick to react to the news.
Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said in a statement, “It is hard to imagine why anyone would want marijuana to be produced and sold by cartels and criminals rather than tightly regulated, taxpaying businesses.”
In an interview with CBT, Tvert added he believes that the end of recreational marijuana is not near.
"I think that’s an incredibly premature notion," he said. "This was an off-the-cuff, bumbling answer to a question from a reporter. It was in no way a statement of policy, and it did not at all seem to be planned or even consistent within itself."
Mark Malone, the executive director at the Cannabis Business Alliance, was extremely critical of the comments from the WH, saying, “Going after the legal marijuana industry would be a direct affront to the overwhelming numbers of Americans who have voted time after time to approve legal cannabis. It would also be an affront to the Cole Memo and a misuse of energy and taxpayer funds.”
Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, a vocal supporter of the cannabis industry in Pueblo and Colorado, also said that local voters had an opportunity to revisit cannabis legalization in their community this past November and that support grew by six percentage points. He added that cannabis tax revenues were a boon to local initiatives.
“College scholarships, parks funding, impact studies, jailhouse improvements, veteran sponsorships, addiction treatment, homeless programming and school drug prevention programs have all been made possible here because of legalization. We know the rest of America agrees, let states decide for themselves.”
Tvert advises cannabis business owners to contact their representatives to urge them to support legislation that would resolve the state-federal conflict, including the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017.
"And they can certainly reach out to their local officials and state officials and encourage them to be prepared to stand up for the many jobs and tax revenue and public safety and health service that they provide their state by taking marijuana out of the underground market and controlling it," Tvert said.
Secretary Spicer's comments come just a week after four U.S. representatives formed a Congressional Cannabis Caucus that will work to create legislation for marijuana legalization and regulation.
“I am deeply disappointed by Sean Spicer’s statement that he expects states to see 'greater enforcement' and crackdown on adult use of marijuana," commented Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) — who teamed up with Jared Polis (D-CO) and Republicans Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Don Young (R-AK) to form the caucus — in a statement released today. "The national prohibition of cannabis has been a failure, and millions of voters across the country have demanded a more sensible approach. I’m looking forward to working with the leadership of our newly formed cannabis caucus to ensure that Oregonian’s wishes are protected and that we end the failed prohibition on marijuana," said Blumenauer.
Additional reporting by Cassie Neiden
Photo at top: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's response was precipitated by a question from Roby Brock with Talk Business & Politics Arkansas. (Photo courtesy: whitehouse.gov)