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Industry, Lawmakers React Swiftly to Spicer’s Cannabis Comments

February 24, 2017
White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s suggestion this week that the Justice Department could target legal adult-use cannabis programs threw the cannabis world for a loop. Within hours, reactions from industry leaders, legalization advocates, and lawmakers in legal states flooded the internet.

While it’s still unclear whether Spicer’s comments constitute a indicate a shift in DOJ policy or simply a shot across the bow of predominantly left-leaning states that have legalized cannabis, the reaction has predominantly been one of resistance. Many still doubt the administration will take strong action against state programs, while others have vowed that legal cannabis won’t go away without a fight.

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Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson:

“I was deeply disappointed to hear the White House Press Secretary’s comments today regarding marijuana legalization like Washington…I will also be very clear with AG Sessions that I will defend the will of Washington voters. My office will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that the federal government does not undermine Washington’s successful, unified system for regulating recreational and medical marijuana.”

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Hilary Bricken, partner at Harris Bricken (Canna Law Blog):

“Though it is certainly unsettling to listen to Spicer predict increased enforcement of recreational marijuana businesses, it is not time to lose heart or cash out. Will the jobs-focused Trump administration really want to shut down cannabis businesses in multiple states and add a slew of hard-working people to the unemployment rolls?”

Nevada Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford (D-Las Vegas):

“The Attorney General must make it immediately clear that he will vigorously defend Nevada’s recreational marijuana laws from federal overreach. 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. Any action by the Trump administration would be an insult to Nevada voters and would pick the pockets of Nevada’s students.”

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Ethan Nadelmann, Drug Policy Alliance executive director:

“Trump seems insistent on throwing the marijuana market underground, wiping out tax-paying jobs and eliminating billions of dollars in taxes. As for connecting marijuana to the legal opioid crisis, Spicer has it exactly backwards. Greater access to marijuana has actually led to declines in opioid use, overdoses and other problems.”

“They will have an army of lawyers and lobbyists if they come at us. We are not going to go away quietly and not without a fight.”
Aaron Pelley, Northwest Marijuana Law

Rob Fess, Tradiv marketing director:

“This could be the issue that starts to upset Trump’s base. If the DOJ does follow through, Trump is certain to get backlash from some segment of his constituents and, if that group is large enough, he will likely back pedal. Part of making America great again, in the minds of Trump supports, is giving people and states the ability to make their own decisions. Cracking down on cannabis goes quite against that.

John Wickens, cannabis business broker at Six Chair Blue:

“The biggest thing since those comments came out is how much of this industry is standing up and ready to fight. It’s woken them up. This industry is too big. $1.3 billion worth of products were sold last year and this won’t just affect business owners. The owners of warehouses renting space for cannabis operations are often charging rent at three or four times high than the normal rate. People outside the industry would fight back, too. These are good people and business is booming.”

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US Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.):

“The federal government needs to respect the decisions of Oregon voters. Instead, the Trump Administration is threatening states’ rights, including the rights of one in five Americans who live in a state where marijuana is legal. Wasting taxpayer dollars and burdening our law-enforcement agencies to go after law-abiding recreational marijuana users distracts from going after criminals and threats to our safety. I will fight hard against ridiculous federal government intrusions into our state.”

US Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.):

“The President has said time and again that the decision about marijuana needs to be left to the states. Now either the President is flip-flopping or his staff is, once again, speaking out of turn, either way these comments leave doubt and uncertainty for the marijuana industry, stifling job growth in my state. The public has spoken on recreational marijuana, we’ve seen it work in Colorado, and now is the time to lift federal prohibition.”

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US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.):

“I am deeply disappointed by Sean Spicer’s statement that he expects states to see ‘greater enforcement’ and crackdown on adult use of marijuana. The national prohibition of cannabis has been a failure, and millions of voters across the country have demanded a more sensible approach. I’m looking forward to working with the leadership of our newly formed cannabis caucus to ensure that Oregonian’s wishes are protected and that we end the failed prohibition on marijuana.”

US Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.):

“Comments like these only serve to undermine our legal businesses that are following regulations and paying taxes, and to drive business back into the more dangerous black market. I urge the Trump administration to follow its own rhetoric on ‘state’s rights, and to respect the voters of Oregon and the many other states who have decided at the ballot to legalize recreational marijuana use.”

Jeffrey Zucker, president of Green Lion Partners:

“The cannabis industry will fight any pressure from the federal government to set back the significant progress that’s been made thus far. The incredibly positive medical, social, and economic impact cannabis legalization has had on regulated states is undeniable. It’s ignoring the will of the people; which national polls now show are in favor of full legalization. I hope that the administration takes the time to truly immerse and educate themselves on cannabis before making any destructive decisions.”

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Max Simon, CEO of Green Flower Media:

“I do believe they will attempt to slow down or halt progress of adult-use cannabis in certain states. It’s not clear what that looks like yet, but with Jeff Sessions and his very outdated perspective on cannabis driving the conversation I’m concerned that we will take a few steps backwards. I think we will see increasing tension and fighting between state and federal on the issue of cannabis since most legal states are predominantly in favor of regulated cannabis because of the tax revenue it brings, plus the overwhelming public support.”

Aaron Pelley of Northwest Marijuana Law:

“Going after recreational would be problematic because in so many markets, like Washington and Colorado, most stores serve both medical and recreational. I’m a little shell-shocked. I expected something better from the administration. I am still hopeful. They will have an army of lawyers and lobbyists if they come at us. It’s not like we’re a bunch of kids who just came out of our basement and are now selling weed in the storefront, these are sophisticated business owners who have invested millions of dollars in these companies. We are not going to go away quietly and not without a fight.”

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Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

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  • J Boswell

    I thought Trump believed in smaller government? And isn’t Betsy Devos (education secretary) ending federal guidelines for transgender students because Trump believes in “state’s rights”? Okay, then also respect state’s rights to make their own cannabis policy. And all he can do is ban its sale at retail locations. The feds don’t have the resources to do individual-level drug busts. It is still going to be readily available and police (in Seattle at least) will still refuse to care about dealers on the streets or on craigslist. The orange giant can’t put the genie back in the bottle…and I doubt he even wants to try.

  • lovingc

    Mr wanna be president put your dog Sphincter on a shorter leash he sounds almost as insane as you are!

  • Harris Baker

    a lot of weed smokers actually voted for trump, a lot of poor people did too. the late great George Carlin said it best, there are a lot of dumb mothereffers out there

  • Laura P. Schulman

    I’m not the “take it to the streets” type, but if it comes to protecting States’ Rights and the Will of the People, I’ll be out there. I voted for legal cannabis, and I won’t be trampled upon.

  • Amaruq

    States’ Rights vs. Federal Rights… we fought one Civil War over this issue already. Do you idiots in DC really, REALLY want another one? I know Bannon does, but the rest of you are so cowardly you can’t even come to your town halls and face down the people who you’ve ticked off by screwing them over… you really want to test the people further? You don’t have the spine for angry constituents, let’s see how you think you’ll suddenly develop a spine for a civil war?

    Oh, right. You won’t. You’ll just let your dogs off their leashes while you cower under your desks. Oops, did I say dogs? I mean “the police.” Same difference at this point.

    If someone does or does not use cannabis, it doesn’t matter to me. This is a precedent that this country already tore itself apart once over. It’s called STATES RIGHTS, and we WILL fight for it again if we need to.

    The extremist Republicans had darned well better get that through their thick skulls.

  • Peter Cook

    Everyone knows who is and has been behind this. The PAC groups that represent the Pharmaceutical and Health Care Groups that line the pockets of Politicians. They have been keeping the Legalization of Marijuana since 1937. The DEA has been holding onto their totally false stance that their justification to make Marijuana Illegal is that they state. It,s a Gateway Drug to Heroin. That it has No Medical Value. Therefore they list it as a Scheduled One Drug. Right up there with all the bad boys. Under Federal Law Possession of Marijuana in any form is a Felony and subject to arrest and the seizure of all assets of the people arrested before they are even brought to trial.

    LISTING IT AS SUCH HAS MADE IT ILLEGAL TO DO ANY TYPE OF RESEARCH. Research centers and Universities wont touch it for fear of being Prosecuted and cut off from Federal Funding. The Politicians have all the channels blocked.

    The renewed interest in Legalized Marijuana by the State’s and still remains illegal Federally.

    Its all about the Money. Who really controls our Government. And corrupt politicians. It may become an upward battle depending on how much push back the Politicians and Trump.

    • Richard Gordon

      Good succinct analysis, Peter. Please edit for grammatical and spelling errors to make your assertions more effective. Thanks!