Responding to a reporter’s question at a Thursday press conference, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he believes we will see “greater enforcement” of federal marijuana laws. This is the first time the Trump administration has publicly stated its position on marijuana use.
Spicer did say that the Congress “made very clear [its] intent” on medical marijuana when it passed the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment that prohibits the use of federal funds to interfere with state laws governing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. There is no such protection for state laws governing the growth, sale and use of recreational marijuana.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a long-time opponent of marijuana use for any reason, and Spicer’s comments indicate that the U.S. Department of Justice may be preparing for a crackdown on the marijuana industry. What shape the DoJ’s “greater enforcement” will take is still unknown.
Industry participants are worried, but not necessarily panicked. Bob Carp, a Massachusetts-based expert on federal marijuana law, told Marijuana Business Daily:
Let’s say, for instance, if all of a sudden the DOJ cracks down, the states that are collecting taxes are going to be very adamant that they will bring a temporary restraining order so it can be litigated. And this is a constitutional fight that could literally take years and tremendous expertise to do.
Carp also predicted that the DoJ might launch some nuisance raids on recreational-use businesses just “to let them know they’re watching.”
Spicer offered mixed signals on the administration’s approach to medical marijuana. On one hand, he said the administration would comply with the current Rohrabacher-Farr amendment. But that law must be reapproved every year and it is possible, though unlikely, that the administration could whip up enough votes in Congress to nullify the law.
On the other hand, Spicer did refer to the mostly discredited idea that marijuana is a gateway drug, specifically to opioid use:
There is a big difference between that [medical marijuana] and recreational marijuana. And I think that 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 …
Results of a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association is quite clear on the impact of medical marijuana on opioid use: “Medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.”
States where recreational marijuana use is legal have additional issues: jobs and tax revenues. Earlier this week cannabis industry research and consulting firm New Frontier Data estimated that the industry would support nearly 300,000 jobs by 2020 and generate some $20 billion in revenues. According to the firm, if there is a federal crackdown on the recreational use market, in 2017 alone, it could threaten $2.5 billion in projected revenue and $8.6 billion by 2020.