Ever since Donald Trump was elected, cannabis activists have wondered what the 45th president's stance on cannabis will be. The choice of Jeff Sessions - an outspoken opponent of legalization - for attorney general caused concern among legalization advocates. Now White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says that we should "expect greater enforcement" of marijuana prohibition under Trump.
But Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice won't go after everyone involved in the cannabis industry. Spicer says the new administration would leave medical marijuana be.
"There’s two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana," Spicer said during a press briefing on Thursday. "I’ve said before, that the president understands the pain and suffering that many people go through, who are facing especially terminal diseases, and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them. And that’s one that Congress, through a [budget] rider in , put an appropriations bill saying that the Department of Justice wouldn’t be funded to go after those folks."
But Spicer says the DOJ will likely go after the recreational marijuana industry - a move that he tried to justify by reviving the debunked gateway drug theory.
"There’s a big difference between that and recreational marijuana," Spicer said. "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. There’s still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature."
However, evidence suggests that prescription painkillers are the real gateways to opioid addiction. And researchers have found that marijuana might be effective for weaning people off opioid addiction.
So Spicer's argument in favor of a crackdown is shaky at best. And the scope of the proposed crackdown is vague. To what extent will the Department of Justice enforce cannabis prohibition? Will the DEA raid states that have legalized recreational use or try another way to bring them back into compliance with federal law? Will Sessions crack down on the legal states or stick to curbing recreational drug use in other jurisdictions? Or will the administration simply campaign against new legalization initiatives while respecting states that have already changed their cannabis laws?
Those are the sorts of issues that Spicer failed to address with reporters. So once again, a Trump Administration press hearing has raised more questions than it answered. But the biggest lingering question might be, is Spicer serious about the crackdown? He began the hearing on a lighter note, saying, "I was thinking about not doing a briefing today, and then I saw Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon give that talk [at CPAC] and I thought they were infringing on my ratings, so we figured we had to do something to keep up our record."
Usually, it would be ridiculously cynical to suspect that an administration would threaten to prosecute millions of Americans for the sake of driving up ratings. But keep in mind that this administration is run by a former reality TV star. And that President Trump has already started a ratings feud with former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. So the idea that the cannabis crackdown is merely a ploy to boost the regime's profile in the press isn't exactly improbable.
Here's how activists and advocates have reacted to Spicer's remarks.
1. Prohibition Fuels Crime
Mason Tvert, Director of Communication for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that cracking down on legal states means taking the recreational industry away from legitimate businesses and handing it back to drug cartels.
"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," Tvert said via press release. "Mr. Spicer says there is a difference between medical and recreational marijuana, but the benefits of and need for regulation apply equally to both."
He also called on President Trump to honor his campaign pledge to respect the rights of individual states to decide their own cannabis laws.
“The vast majority of Americans [71 percent] 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."
2. A New Pot Petition
MassRoots - a social media platform for the cannabis community - wants you to hold Trump's feet to the fire regarding that campaign pledge to respect the rights of states. Following Spicer's remarks, the site launched an official WhiteHouse.gov petition calling on Trump to respect state marijuana laws.
So far, they are 1/10th of the way toward the goal of 100,000 signatures. If they hit that mark, then the Trump Administration is obliged to offer an official response to the petition. Check it out below.
3. Prohibition Is Bad for Business
The National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Laws (NORML) said that the Trump Administration will inadvertently bankroll drug cartels by cracking down on state-legalized cannabis industries.
"If the Trump administration goes through with a crackdown on states that have legalized marijuana they will be taking billions of dollars away from state sanctioned businesses and putting that money back into the hands of drug cartels," Erik Altieri - Executive Director of NORML - said via press release.
4. One-Term Trump?
NORML's Political Director Justin Strekal suggested that raiding states that have legalized recreational marijuana will make the already unpopular president even more reviled.
"Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions both hold views that are out of step with mainstream America and they are in conflict with the laws regarding marijuana in over half of the states in this country," Strekal said via press release. "The fact that President Trump would allow his Attorney General to pursue a path that is so politically unpopular and contrary to will of numerous states is absurd."
So Trump and Sessions might end up paying for the crackdown when voters cast ballots in 2020.
5. Washington State Goes Rogue
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has pledged to defy any federal crackdown on the state's recreational marijuana industry. “I will resist any efforts by the Trump administration to undermine the will of the voters in Washington state,” Ferguson told The Seattle Times yesterday.
And he has the support of Governor Jay Inslee. Last week, Inslee and Ferguson co-wrote a letter to Attorney General Sessions calling on the attorney general to back off from prosecuting Washington and other states that are experimenting with cannabis legalization.
"[T]he states that are regulating marijuana are serving as classic 'laboratories of democracy,'" they wrote. "If our approach is successful, other states and the federal government may choose to emulate it. If it proves to be a failure, despite current good signs, our state may retreat. But we submit that it will benefit the country as a whole if you allow us to continue our current efforts, thereby enabling us to make future decisions on the optimum laws to regulate marijuana."
And they advised Sessions to put the DOJ's money toward combating the real drug problem in America.
"[W]e note that the country is in the grips of an unprecedented and deadly epidemic of opioid addiction and abuse that will not be helped by a renewed law enforcement focus on marijuana," they added. "To the extent that DOJ chooses to reallocate anti-drug resources, we encourage it to work even more closely with the states to combat the opioid scourge."