The Trump administration issued its first official statements on the national marijuana industrythis Thursday, when reporters asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer for details on whether theDepartment of Justice plans to enforce federal drug laws in states that have legalized cannabis. While Spicer did not address specifics regarding the federal enforcement policies to come, his answers nonetheless left many advocates of cannabislegalization nervous.
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Spicer quickly differentiated the medical marijuana industry from recreational legalization, asserting that they were “two distinct issues.” Medical marijuana, he stated, was the more forgivable of the two:
“I think … the president understands the pain and suffering that many people go throughwho are facing, especially, terminal diseases,” he told reporters. “And the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them.”
However, Spicer also made it clear that those sympathies did not extend to the recreational components of cannabis legalization:
“There’s a big difference between [medical] and recreational marijuana, and I think that when you see something like the current opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country,the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people,” he said
When pressed for specifics on what recreational marijuana enforcement would look like, though, Spicer speculated that, while he anticipated that enforcement measures would increase, the question was ultimately one for the Department of Justice.
“I think that’s a question for [them],” he said. “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of it, because, again, there’s a big difference between the medical use, which Congress has, through an appropriations rider in 2014, made very clear what their intent was on how the Department of Justice would handle that issue. That’s something the Department of Justice will be further lookinginto.”
Despite their vague nature, Spicer’s comments are alarming to advocates of cannabis legalization for several reasons.
First, the “appropriations rider” Spicer referenced is the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which was incorporated into the law as part of an omnibus spending bill in December 2014 and prohibits the Department of Justice from spending money to prosecute medical marijuana users that are in compliance with state law. But the rider also requires annual renewal, and it’s currently set to expire for the first time since November’s election in April of this year.
While many have stated that the Rohrabacher-Farr rider will likely be renewed without incident due to its bipartisan support (in 2014, twenty-nine Republicans voted in favor of it, and only one Democrat voted against it), such a stance may be too optimistic: a similar measure that would have allowed veterans to discuss medical marijuana use with their V.A. doctors was killed in a literal late-night, closed-door session just last summer by House Republicans – after it had received bipartisan support and passed in both the House and the Senate. The removal of the veterans’ protections measure, which was successfully executed by only a few highly conservative members of Congress, creates sobering implications regarding Rohrabacher-Farr’s fate in the upcoming weeks – clearly, bucking protective medical marijuana measures – even ones that receive dual-chamber, bipartisan support – is not off the table.
Furthermore, Spicer’s reference to the rider is in and of itself disconcerting. Given that the first several weeks of Trump’s presidency have been marked by criticisms of inaccurate statements issued by both the president and the White House (including the press secretary himself), Spicer’s somewhat-accurate references to the amendment –in both questions he fielded from reporters – indicates that the Department of Justice, along with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, are likely tuned into Rohrabacher-Farr as well. Sessions is on-record as being strongly anti-marijuana, including medical use, and the soon-to-expire rider may be the only thing standing between him and major marijuana raids in states that permit the medical use of cannabis, despite Spicer’s comments to the contrary.
Finally, Spicer’s discussion of recreational marijuana alongside the nation’s opium crisis is equally alarming, as it echoes the political anti-drug tactics embraced by the War on Drugs, which expanded substantially under President Reagan in the 1980’s. Throughout President Reagan’s two terms in office, the widespread use of crack-cocaine was used to justify enforcement of a variety of other substances, including marijuana. Spicer’s indirect comparison of marijuana use to opium addiction, which also implies that legalizing recreational marijuana could also “blossom” into a widespread drug-addiction problem via “encouragement,” directly echoes the justifications made for expanding the War on Drugs a quarter of a century ago. And it ignores the myriad of studies, conducted on numerous occasions by different scientists throughout the world, that tend to negate the existence of cannabis’s physiologically addictive qualities, especially when compared to other highly-regulated controlled substances such as opium.
For these reasons, cannabis business owners should take active steps to minimize their exposure to federal enforcement and liability. As our blog has stated before, caution, awareness, and vigilance remain necessary traits for those involved in the booming marijuana industry – perhaps now more than ever.
For further assistance with any cannabis related legal issues, please contact the legal team at Feldmann-Nagel.com.