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White House Plans ‘Greater Enforcement’ Against Legal Cannabis

February 23, 2017
(Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
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, 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.


Industry, Lawmakers React Swiftly to Spicer’s Cannabis Comments

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.”

“The last thing we should be doing is encouraging people.”
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. (Worth noting: Opioid use has actually fallen in states that have legalized cannabis.)


America’s Opioid Crisis: Can High-CBD Cannabis Combat Pain and Reduce Addiction Rates?

The statements drew a swift response from the newly formed Congressional Cannabis Caucus, a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers. Members, who represent Colorado, Oregon, California, and Alaska, said they “hope today’s comments do not reflect the views of the President and his administration.”

Last November, eight more states passed measures to increase access to state-legal cannabis, and today more than 300 million Americans live in states with access to adult-use marijuana or some form medical cannabis. Among them are four additional states that have fully legalized the adult-use of marijuana,” the group said in a statement. “We stand ready to educate this administration on the need for more sensible marijuana policies and share the many experiences states have had with the legalization of cannabis.”


Cannabis Now Has Its Own Congressional Caucus

Going forward, the caucus said, “we will continue to work in a bipartisan manner to reform our failed marijuana policies and provide a voice for Americans who have overwhelmingly voted for a more sensible drug policy.”

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.


The Senate Just Confirmed Jeff Sessions as Attorney General

“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.”

Both medical and adult-use cannabis remain illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. One reason Spicer may have drawn a distinction between the two 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 provision guarding adult-use programs.

“The Governor’s proposed education budget depends on tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales.”
Sen. Aaron D. Ford (D-Las Vegas), Senate Majority Leader

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.

“Going after the legal marijuana industry would be a direct affront to the overwhelming numbers of Americans who have voted time after time to approve legal cannabis,” Mark Malone, executive director of the Cannabis Business Alliance said Thursday in a statement. “The cannabis industry is compliant, a job creator, and a tax engine bringing states out of the red and into to the black.”


Nevada to Proceed With July Cannabis Sales Despite White House Warning

Malone also pointed to studies showing that legalization also makes for safety procedures and regulations that black markets lack. “States where cannabis is legal have seen a reduction in teen use,” he pointed out, a claim backed up by recent studies.

If federal prosecutors do indeed go after legal cannabis programs, there are a number of ways they could do it. Charges could be filed against individual business operators on a case-by-case basis, or DOJ lawyers could take aim at state laws themselves by arguing that the federal Controlled Substances Act, under which cannabis remains illegal, pre-empts them. Prosecutors could also employ other tactics, as they have in the past, such as threatening to seize property from landlords that rent space to cannabis businesses.


Washington State Officials Vow to Fight Any Federal Crackdown

There is, as yet, no indication the White House intends to target individual medical marijuana patients, although an attack on state programs could impact patients’ access to medicine from a legal, reliable source.

Some state lawmakers have already moved to shield their state cannabis programs from federal intervention. The Washington state Legislature is mulling a bill that would forbid local authorities from aiding federal efforts “that might have the effect of impeding, obstructing, or otherwise interfering” with the state’s cannabis system.

And in Nevada, where voters legalized cannabis for adult use in November, state Senate Majority Leader Aaron D. Ford, issued a statement urging state Attorney General Adam Laxalt to “make it immediately clear that he will vigorously defend Nevada’s recreational marijuana laws from federal overreach.”


Washington State Lawmakers Want a Wall Around Legal Marijuana

“Not only did voters overwhelmingly vote to approve the legalization of recreational marijuana, the Governor’s proposed education budget depends on tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales,” he said.

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.

The full transcript of Spicer’s press briefing is available on the White House website.

Ben Adlin's Bio Image

Ben Adlin

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor who specializes in cannabis politics and law. He was a news editor for Leafly from 2015-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin

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  • JasonMary Archer

    Recreational only! They will not enforce laws on medical marijuana! Be real!

    • Kristopher LaFountaine

      The article makes it very clear they are targeting recreational sales. Why are you jumping up and down about the distinction? Real advocates would be hopeful that any Administration is not concerned about cracking down on medical OR legal recreational cannabis use . . .

    • Ted

      I think this is a states rights issue. Well the Republicans better do something fast or they will be gone in 2 yrs.

    • So why do you think that many states have still yet to make cannabis legal? We need change now!

      • onerenfro

        Wyoming is to Stupid to make cannabis legal

        • zflwizard

          I used to hunt Deer and Antelope there.They were definatly a lot of the old school thinking there back in 1975. Most of the ranchers would not give anyone a job or let them huint on their property that had long hair back then.

      • James Peters

        This sums up my thoughts on ‘medical’ marijuana pretty well: ”In conclusion, if the states’ initiative to legalize medical marijuana is merely a veiled step toward allowing access to recreational marijuana, then the medical community should be left out of the process, and instead marijuana should be decriminalized. Conversely, if the goal is to make marijuana available for medical purposes, then it is unclear why the approval process should be different from that used for other medications.”

      • JasonMary Archer

        I agree, here is one way. If we had the funds to get this before the Supreme Court we would more than likely win! I have been posting this everywhere!

        Read article IV of the constitution. It says, “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of Citizens in the Several States.” This is the Constitutional precedence that was given to Gay Marriage. What is law in Several States or is counted as freedom in Several States becomes freedoms and laws in all States. In the meaning of article 4 section 1 the Annenberg Classroom gives the meaning of this as, “Article IV, Section 1 ensures that states respect and honor the state laws and court orders of other states, even when their own laws are different. For example, if citizens of New Jersey marry, divorce, or adopt children in New Jersey, Florida must recognize these actions as valid even if the marriage or divorce would not have been possible under Florida law. Similarly, if a court in one state orders a person to pay money or to stop a certain behavior, the courts in other states must recognize and enforce that state’s order.” So in closing, the Constitution ensures the protection of those who do intake cannabis, simply by the fact that Several States have laws enabling the Citizens of those states to be protected from prosecution for small amounts of cannabis.

  • Vizionary Sight

    Herb is the healing of the nation.. Drinking is the poison of our culture.

    • Endrest

      A friend of mine, of whom lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation, said, “Alcohol is the curse of the whiteman to the redman, but tobacco is the curse of the redman to the whiteman.”

      We both enjoy herb for its calming nature, though.

      That said, I never had a problem limiting the drink… limiting tobacco is the BANE of my life!

      • TheContrarian

        You’re lucky. Still screw up once in a while, but the herb keeps me away from it for the most part.

  • Justin Hodgson

    He compares it directly to an Opiod Crisis… not very accurate IMO

  • Thijs R.

    I think you’re seeing this too bleakly. He said nothing really. Extra enforcement could also mean some sort of political compromise about cross border illegal trade or whatever. It’s not always the end of the world. There is no stopping this without starting a civil war.

  • Elliot Faulk

    I hate Spicer

  • Robert Gerus

    Ho Fk here we go again, two steps forward and 20 steps back, what a bunch of assholes and you all voted for him ha ha ha

  • Peter

    So when it comes to protecting the civil rights of trans youth in schools, it’s all about States’ Rights. But when it comes to voter approved state laws, it’s time to bring down the Federal hammer.

    Which is it? Pick one!

    • DAC

      It’s all about power. Sessions claim to power before was in opposing the Feds. Now he IS the Feds. No conflict. Just a pathetic little man struggling to show some power.

  • Tim Murphy

    Good luck. When the people speak, the government will listen. This will not be a war the Trump administration will win. The people voted. It’s not up to them. End of story.

    • Marita Liles

      Its not going to be a war. Other then “ILLEGAL” drugs. Not a plant…..
      POTUS has surrounded himself with some of the most talented, smart ppl. Can’t be stupid and make the $.

      • bkmn

        Is that what they are telling people in Russia these days?

        • Marita Liles

          Bkmn you are a MORON
          You progresives need to wake up.
          You wouldn’t have the faintest idea about Russia.

      • Tim Murphy

        Wait…what? This is by far the most vacuous administration we’ve ever seen.

    • Let’s Be Real

      I bet this idiot voted for Trump and will do it again in 4 years. WHAT AN IDIOT.

    • baki

      I don’t think they will move against legal hemp, plenty of conservatives and libertarians support it, and against the drug war, and they will give their voice against it.

    • Michael Thomas Meyer

      You’re a dreamer. The people have spoken. Clearly the government is not listening.

  • Bebo

    Man, this is BS!! The only good thing is that they aren’t going after medical. Yet. I feel like Trump is surrounded by a lot of bad advice from bad people on this subject among many.

    • zflwizard

      I agree. They are old and more prone to learn of chronic pain themselves, Like the story of the cop that developed parkinson’s or chronic pain, cant remember. Anyway he resisted trying it because he had spent his life aresting those that use marijuana until he had to and the relief was far beyond anything else. When the old of the governmemt have to treat chronic pain themselves they will learn fast or die screaming in agony.

      • DancerTiffy

        I tried pot for pain relief but it had too many weird side effects. I went back to vicodins.

        • Endrest

          I recommend caution with Vicodin… side effects can be everything from acute liver failure to kidney cancer.

          Strangely, it looks like the bulk of the problems to the kidney and liver are from the acetaminophen, not the hydrocodone.

          Opioids end up damaging dopamine receptors, thus forcing the brain to make more receptors –this makes pain and withdrawal more difficult to manage.

          You can get non-psychoactive THC in edible form… the trick is that the person processing the bud shouldn’t allow the oil to get above ~130 degrees.

          • DancerTiffy

            Like I said: Pot does absolutely nothing for pain, at least with me.
            I’m happy to have the hydrocodones. Without them I would be in constant pain.

        • Joshua Jason Molloy

          Did you try CBD products?? The THC is what gave you the side effects. You can get stains that are very low in THC & high in CBD or you can completely cut out the THC by getting CBD capsules.


    I am an immigrant from the Himalayas where Cannabis is as natural as the monsoon rain. Pigs are fed weed to sleep better at night. Why do the Judaeo Christian white people feel that it is their prerogative to inflict their ideology on everyone else. Any ideology is wrong, history teaches us that again and again. Overall I think the race towards legalization is ensured after this political shock to the system. The next turn around is going to send the nation in a much better direction. Trump will be an old miserable hag and folks like Spicer will be laughed at in a historical context. What I hope for very much is that during the next turn around, the for profit jail system gets booted out of existence.

    • baki

      Ask for yourself, why did you emigrate to the West…hmmm? No, ideologies are not wrong, maybe you thought totalitarian ideologies?

    • baki

      Maybe if the evil white men had succeeded “to inflict their ideology on” your home tribe, You should not have to emigrate…. give me a break

    • Let’s Be Real

      Where can i get a stoned pig in the states?

    • RonJohnson

      And its still illegal where you live.

  • Marita Liles

    I watched the Press conference today.
    You are misquoting Mr. Spicer.

  • Jerry Gerace

    So much for our vote, the people spoke !

  • Renay Watkins

    Never seen a marijuana overdose i uave seen an opioid overdose BIIIIIIGGGGG differnce there as far as backwater australia goes its harder to get into tje legal system than finding rocking horse shit

  • Slab

    LOL. Now we get to see if Trump has the balls to stand up to his own appointees. I assume he is smart enough to NOT go against a 71% opinion, local businesses and states rights issue? Ow wait, never mind. Fox news is real news and all the others are fake. And Darth Bannon is whispering constantly in his ear.

    He’s already swimming up a dung stream. If he goes forward with this it will bite him in the ass pretty hard and could be quite entertaining. We don’t need the conflict though. Hypocrites of life, they are.

  • onerenfro

    I agree Herb is the healing of the nation.. Drinking is the poison of our culture.

  • onerenfro

    We should have the Freedom to smoke just Like they have the Freedom To drink.. Herb is the healing of the nation.. Drinking is the poison of our culture.

  • bkmn

    So Trump supports Mexican drug cartels now?

    • MG Deegan

      He on it Trump look at red face he smoke out

  • zflwizard

    (Worth noting: Opioid use has actually fallen in states that have legalized cannabis.) 71 % of people oppose a stronger enforcement. I oppose it also as I am a member of the Chronic pain group and have a lot of knowledge of how many people are suffering. The medical marijuana is just window dressing. Poor people cannot afford the $500+ it costs to get a card to buy it plus pay hundreds to buy it from legal outlets. The poor are the ones that need it most.. There is a video on Facebook of a person with Parkinsons taking a drop of the oil under tongue and the difference hin his control is mind boggling. He did not have the control to talk but after taking the drop of cannabis oil he could talk and stop jerking. That is the strong oil, not the weak stuff they are pushing on the internet. The weak is good to prevent seizures but not able to take care of chronic pain.There are some good comments here. This is one subject it seems the Trump movement is ignorant about. I hope they will learn.

  • Joseph Pierce

    You keep attacking the president the way you are you gonna mess it up for everybody you dont get your message across by yelling calling names and insulting people you just look like retards and wreck it for everyone

    • Let’s Be Real

      your comment was not necessary, because most people in America do not like Trump. Look at his approval rating.

      • Joseph Pierce

        Ignorance is the only thing i hear i have smoked pot longer than you been alive but only recently has there been so many ignorant people willing to spew so much hate your voice drowned in your hate

  • MG Deegan

    I have 20year without cigettee 4 years without Drinking I want my medical marijuana patient card holder I brake down with out it I want Trump 86 in world he dumbass I know you’re kids smoke it to and don’t lie you do Trump you are lier

  • Andrew Sweeney

    Hopefully Canada picks up the ball that your country fumbles.

  • baki

    I can’t believe it, there are plenty pro-legalization people among right-wingers

  • Robert Wayne

    Trump just turned traitor. I heard Spicer say “they are going to crackdown on legal use”, 2/24/17. GUESS they want to flex their muscle. We the people are the boss, not the Fed.

  • Deessnutz

    Hes hooking up his friends in big pharma. That’s what you do at the top!

  • John Rah

    We knew this would happen . This administration is just going from bad to worse. Trying their best to piss off America. Well, good job!

  • Tired of PC Crap

    If Trump turns against the weed crowd, his ENTIRE base of support will be gone.

  • Paul Fields

    I have never asked “permission” to smoke…and I never will….I AM A FREE MAN and I will put ANYTHING in my body I so choose….this “government” has ZERO authority over my Body…. ZERO…..

    • Joshua Jason Molloy

      I agree with you. Just as long as people are ready to deal with the consequences that may come with what someone puts into their body. Whether it be legal, health, ect.

  • RonJohnson

    Trump didnt say this, and spice is known for going out of his way to express his own opinions. I doubt anything happens.

  • DancerTiffy

    I voted for Trump to go after and take on the islamists.
    Instead of doing that, he leaves the islamists to themselves and turns the war on pot back on. Pitiful.
    I’m sorry I voted for the guy. I mean, really, this is not what I voted for.
    But hey, it’s looking like Jeff Sessions is a do-nothing AG anyways—-so probably nothing to worry about.

  • TheContrarian
  • Munzer Morrar

    Why don’t we just decriminalize drugs. Why should it be a crime to get high? If someone commits a crime while high, throw the book at them. This way we can free up prisons and have a larger labor Poole.

  • Robert Gerus

    Sessions, Georgia Republican Tom Price, Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary, has come out strongly against legalization. Wow what a bunch AH all in a pot. They must have dreams about way’s of screwing their fellow man, out of life, liberty and the pursuit to happiness and back to President Richard Nixon’s war on drugs, declared in 1971. In 1973, the Drug Enforcement Administration was created to replace the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The most dangerous drug is a politician with a twisted mind. You all are dangerous, not marijuana.

  • Mb

    The only reason they don’t want to legalize Marijuana is because of the pharmaceutical companies, they are the world’s biggest drug dealers and killers. It’s not good for them. Notice how they stay under the radar. They produce medications for pennies and sell for hundreds for a script. Open your eyes guys. It’s a billion dollar industry.

  • dianehappylife420