White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer sent a jolt through the cannabis world on Thursday, suggesting at a media briefing that the Trump administration could take actions to crack down on state-legal cannabis programs.
“I think you’ll see greater enforcement,” Spicer said, according to The Hill. He added that precisely what that means will be “a question for the Department of Justice.”
Spicer: DOJ will be “taking action” against states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
— Radley Balko (@radleybalko) February 23, 2017
Spicer, answering questions from reporters, drew a distinction between medical and nonmedical cannabis programs, expressing some support for the very sick who find relief through cannabis.
Trump “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,” he said, according to Politico, also noting previous action by Congress not to fund the Justice Department “go[ing] after those folks.”
Sean Spicer, White House press secretary
As for “recreational marijuana, that’s a very, very different subject,” Spicer said.
“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,” he said. (Opioid use has actually fallen in states that have legalized cannabis.)
Patients, consumers, business owners, and government officials in legal states have been parsing cannabis-related language out of the Trump camp since the presidential campaign. Today’s message from Spicer is the latest sign that the White House could take actions to stymie adult-use programs already up and running in a handful of states across the country.
Trump’s nomination of Jeff Sessions to head the Department of Justice has also cast a cloud of uncertainty over state cannabis programs. In April of last year, Sessions famously said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” He was cagey in Senate confirmation hearings when asked about his how he’d handle cannabis as US attorney general, pledging to “review and evaluate” existing policies under which the DOJ has allowed state programs to operate.
“Congress made the possession of marijuana in every state, and the distribution of it, an illegal act,” he told senators. “If that’s something that’s not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule.”
One reason Spicer may have drawn a distinction between medical and nonmedical cannabis is because a federal spending provision known as the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment currently prohibits the DOJ from going after state-compliant medical marijuana actors. That protection is set to expire in April, however, and there is no such provisions guarding adult-use programs.
Another reason for the distinction could be political. A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday found that 71 percent of respondents—including majorities of Republicans, Democrats, independents, and among every age groups surveyed—opposed the government enforcing federal prohibition in states that have legalized cannabis for medical or adult use.
Trump himself has stressed his frustration with the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis and has vowed to go after international drug cartels. Until now, however, he’s been mostly quiet on state-legal cannabis. He has expressed support for medical marijuana and states’ rights, but has also surrounded himself with numerous legalization opponents, from billionaire political donors to Cabinet-level officials. In addition to Sessions, Georgia Republican Tom Price, Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary, has come out strongly against legalization.
This story is developing and will be updated as information is available.