White House May Crack Down On Recreational Marijuana

Image courtesy of Chris Wilson

Even though federal law currently prohibits the Justice Department from using any of the funding it receives from Congress to prosecute medical marijuana in 40 states (and D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico), no law blocks the DOJ from going after recreational marijuana operations, even in the growing number of states where it’s been legalized. This afternoon, the White House likened recreational pot use to the opioid epidemic and hinted that it may opt to crack down on non-medical pot.

Recently sworn in U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has long been an outspoken critic of marijuana. Just last year he declared that pot “is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny,” and saying that he wanted “to send that message with clarity, that good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

When asked this afternoon about the Trump administration’s plan toward enforcing marijuana laws, White House spokesman Sean Spicer indicated that there would be no apparent change with the approach toward legalized marijuana, in part because of the budget rider that currently prevents enforcement and because “the President understands the pain and suffering that many people go through, especially with terminal diseases, and the comfort that some of these drugs — including medical marijuana — can bring to them.”

“There’s a big difference between that and recreational marijuana,” said Spicer, “and when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law that we need to abide by.”

Asked point-blank in a follow-up if that meant that the Trump administration planned to take action, Spicer said that this is really a question for the DOJ (glossing over the fact that the DOJ is within the executive branch and AG Sessions reports directly to the President), but that “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement.”

When pressed again on this topic, Spicer restated that the DOJ is “the lead on that… but I believe that they are going to continue to enforce the laws on the books with respect to recreational marijuana.”

In a statement released after today’s press conference, Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project took the White House to task for its support of states’ rights, except when it comes to pot.

“The vast majority of Americans agree that the federal government has no business interfering in state marijuana laws. This administration is claiming that it values states’ rights, so we hope they will respect the rights of states to determine their own marijuana policies,” says Tvert. “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. Mr. Spicer says there is a difference between medical and recreational marijuana, but the benefits of and need for regulation apply equally to both.”

This sentiment was echoed by the National Cannabis Industry Association’s Aaron Smith, who said “It would be a mistake for the Department of Justice to overthrow the will of the voters and state governments who have created carefully regulated adult-use marijuana programs. It would represent a rejection of the values of economic growth, limited government, and respect for federalism that Republicans claim to embrace.”

The marijuana industry contends that legalized recreational use has had positive effects, shifting production from gang- or cartel-linked operations to legitimate U.S. businesses.

“Marijuana interdictions at the Mexican border are down substantially,” says Smith. “Youth use has not increased in states with legal access to cannabis, and responsible cannabis businesses are contributing tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact to their communities.”

Last August, the Drug Enforcement Administration denied petitions filed years earlier by the governors of Rhode Island and Washington to reconsider their classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance — the same category as heroin and other drugs deemed to have no legitimate medical use. Though the agency did issue new guidance intended to make it less difficult for researchers to obtain marijuana for medical research by looking to increase the number of federally authorized marijuana growers.