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The Trump Administration Threatens a Crackdown on Adult Use Marijuana

2 minute Read

The White House announced on Thursday what the cannabis industry has been hoping wouldn’t happen: The Trump administration will use “greater enforcement” on states that legalized adult use (recreational) marijuana.

“There’s a big difference between {medical marijuana} and recreational marijuana, and I think 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,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. “There is a still a federal law that we need to abide by in terms of recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”

Though Spicer acknowledged the federal policies in place to protect state marijuana law, he said they only apply to medical programs. “That’s very different than the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice, I think, will be further looking into,” he said.

The Cole Memorandum, issued in 2013 by the Department of Justice, is meant to offer guidance to federal prosecutors on marijuana law enforcement. “In jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form,” the memo reads, “conduct in compliance with those laws and regulations is less likely to threaten the federal priorities.” In essence, the Cole Memo tells the feds to back off on prosecuting state-compliant marijuana operations.

There’s also the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, now called Rohrabacher-Blumenauer, a funding measure that prohibits the Justice Department from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana programs.

However, neither the Cole Memo, nor the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which requires annual renewal, have the rule of law.

“We are disappointed, but not surprised,” Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, tells Jane Street. “It’s something we’ve been concerned about since Trump took office and since Jeff Sessions’ nomination.” Though Trump has stated support of states’ rights to do as they please with cannabis, nominating Sessions as Attorney General was inconsistent with that position. Sessions has expressed hostility toward people who use marijuana, has called legalization a “tragic mistake,” and has criticized the Obama administration for not enforcing federal prohibition in green states.

With 60 percent support for marijuana legalization, Sessions and the Trump administration are at odds with the will of the American people. Twenty-eight states, plus Washington D.C., have legalized cannabis to some degree, while more than 60 million Americans — nearly 20 percent of the nation — live where adult use cannabis is legal. On Thursday, Quinnipiac released a poll indicated that 71 percent of Americans think the government should not enforce federal prohibition in the states that legalized cannabis for adult use.

“To be honest, the train has left the station on marijuana,” says Collins. “This will certainly cause problems for the marijuana industry, but it’s hard to see how they can completely shut it down or stop what states are doing.” Cracking down on cannabis will eliminate jobs and tax dollars, he adds. “This is a big mistake. It will give a boost to the underground market and create a lot of public safety issues.”

Moreover, Spicer’s connection of marijuana to opioid use is completely backwards. “The bottom line here is that there has been a sharp reduction in opioid use in states that legalized medical marijuana,” says Collins. “People are using marijuana as a pain substitute.”

Going forward, legislators from the states threatened by a crackdown on weed will need to push back against this. Republicans, especially, should stand up to the Republican administration, Collins says.

In fact, just last week a bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus launched to do just that. The Caucus will serve as forum for strategizing and drafting legislation to protect the will of the constituents living in states that legalized adult use or medical marijuana.

“The national prohibition of cannabis has been a failure, and millions of voters across the country have demanded a more sensible approach,” Congressman Earl Blumenauer, co-founder of caucus, said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to working with the leadership of our newly formed cannabis caucus to ensure that these wishes are protected.”

The Trump Administration Threatens a Crackdown on Adult Use Marijuana