Crackdown on legalized marijuana likely coming under new DOJ head

UPDATE — 2/28, 9:30 a.m. EST: Speaking to reporters Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reaffirmed comments made by Sean Spicer last week, hinting that federal enforcement of marijuana laws may be coming in states that have legalized the drug.

“I am definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” Sessions said. “But states, they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say, it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”

Sessions said his department is currently reviewing Obama’s DOJ marijuana policy which took a hands-off approach in jurisdictions that passed laws allowing the drug to be used for either recreational or medicinal use.


Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed the fears of those in the marijuana business Thursday, indicating at a White House news conference that the Justice Department will consider enforcing federal laws in states that have legalized the drug’s recreational use.

Spicer said that while President Trump supports medical marijuana, he does not favor across-the-board adult use, calling it a “very, very different subject,” and predicted that “greater enforcement” of federal drug laws is coming.

“There’s a big difference between the medical use”, Spicer espoused. “That’s very different than the recreational which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into.”

During President Obama’s tenure, eight states and the District of Columbia legalized the use of marijuana among all adults, most recently California and Massachusetts. Now, about 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state that regulates recreational pot.

A 2013 DOJ memo outlined a policy exempting states that legalized recreational or medical marijuana use from federal enforcement, given interstate and minor sales remained prohibited.

According to AP, new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions may pursue at least two preliminary options to crack down on marijuana. One, file suits against states on the basis of constitutional law which holds that federal statutes override state policies; two, inform business owners selling marijuana they are in violation of federal law.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson responded Thursday, vowing to fight any enforcement measures pursued by the Trump administration.  Ferguson also said he has requested a meeting with Sessions to hash out the DOJ’s intended approach and explained to the new DOJ head in a letter his state’s “successful, unified system for regulating”, marijuana will be defended using “every tool at our disposal”.

Marijuana advocates also weighed in following Spicer’s remarks, citing a Thursday poll released by Quinnipiac University which showed that over 70 percent of Americans oppose federal enforcement of marijuana laws in states that allow either medical or recreational use.

“The vast majority of Americans agree that the federal government has no business interfering in state marijuana laws,” said Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project. “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.”

Interestingly, Quinnipiac’s survey also found 55 percent of Republicans oppose DOJ involvement in state marijuana policy. Overall, 59 percent of those polled said the drug should be made legal nationwide.

If the Trump administration does flout public opinion and the views of individual state’s voters by prosecuting legitimate marijuana growers and sellers, it will put a damper on the economy for the next four years as well.

In 2016, legal marijuana sales totaled $6.7 billion in only a handful of states, according to Arcview Market Research. By 2021, annual income from the pot business is expected to triple to over $20 billion.


[AP] [NPR] [Washington Post] [AP] [Photo courtesy Green Rush Daily]