In late February, in the clearest warning yet that the Trump administration may move to disrupt the marijuana trade, the White House put states that have legalized the use and sale of recreational marijuana on notice that federal law enforcement agents could soon be targeting them. This comes after candidate Donald Trump had waffled on the issue during his campaign.
In a press conference, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that there was a “big difference” between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana, and that states are entitled to regulate medical marijuana in accordance with their own laws. He added, however, that marijuana remains illegal under federal law and that the nation faces an opioid addiction crisis. As a result, he said, there would be “greater enforcement” in states that legalized recreational marijuana.
Since President Trump’s election, the nation’s rapidly growing marijuana industry has cautiously awaited word of the new administration’s approach to cannabis, remaining hopeful that the president was serious when, as a candidate, he said, “I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state.”
But Spicer’s comments indicated a potentially major shift in enforcement: “There is still a federal law that we need to abide by in terms of recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.” The press secretary provided neither a timeline nor specifics about how a crackdown could occur.
In 2012, the Obama administration issued an administrative policy putting a stop to federal raids of legal pot businesses, even as it continued to classify the drug as more dangerous than cocaine. Congress further reassured marijuana users in 2014 by banning the Drug Enforcement Administration from using federal funds to pursue medical marijuana operations functioning legally under state laws.
Spicer’s comments coincided with the release of a Quinnipiac University Poll, a nationwide survey which indicated that the vast majority of U.S. voters think the federal government should respect state marijuana laws.