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Trump administration puts recreational marijuana in crosshairs

Sean Spicer at White House press briefing: 'Big difference' between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana

February 23, 2017

Recreational marijuana is in the sights of the Trump administration, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Thursday.

Spicer, during his daily briefing, gave the first clear glimpse at the new administration’s views toward the burgeoning rise of legal 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,” Spicer said, when asked about the topic of legalization. “There is still a federal law that we need to abide by in terms of recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”

When asked about enforcement action, Spicer deferred to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“That is something you should follow up with … them but they are going to continue to enforce the laws on the books with respect to recreational marijuana,” Spicer said, according to a CSPAN transcript. “I think it was pretty real.”

Spicer’s comments come as uncertainty swelled about how the new administration would handle the topic of marijuana legalization. Marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, and an increasing number of states have legalized some form of cannabis.

Following the November 2016 general election — in which eight states passed marijuana ballot measures — 28 states, Washington, D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico, have legalized the use of medical marijuana and eight states and D.C. have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

The 2016 election also resulted in President Donald Trump, who later appointed Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, a vocal opponent of legalization, as the nation’s attorney general.

A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday found 71 percent of Americans surveyed would oppose a federal crackdown on legal marijuana, and 93 percent are in favor of medical marijuana.

In a Cannabist interview with national drug policy expert John Hudak earlier this month, Hudak talked about possible federal enforcement action:

“The attorney general, the (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration), the (Federal Bureau of Investigation), do not have the budget or the manpower to physically enforce the Controlled Substances Act nationwide, so it’s not like you could see agents come into every storefront in the United States tomorrow and deal with this. That’s not a reality. But it’s difficult for policy makers. It’s difficult for elected officials. It’s going to rock the boat around investment and I think any advances that have been made on banking, on security, on real estate, state by state, city by city or whatever.

“Physical law enforcement is one option.

“Of course, the limits to that are federal officials have to do that. They can’t compel state or local officials to help them and so that creates an even bigger manpower task. But beyond that, yeah, filing lawsuits, asking courts for injunctions, asking courts for restraining orders. Stopping state officials from behaving in a certain way. I think it’s going to be tougher for Sessions to do this to (Colorado Gov.) John Hickenlooper or (Washington Gov.) Jay Inslee. I think the states that just approved legal marijuana, to actually stop before it starts, is going to be a much more effective strategy.

“If I were advising Jeff Sessions — I’m certainly not — if I was asked to provide the quickest stab to the heart of what you can do, I would say: File an injunction against the eight governors who just legalized medical and recreational marijuana, freezing their systems in place. That includes California, and that’s a killer.”