Ban on Recreational Marijuana to Be Enforced, White House Says

  • Spokesman Spicer separates recreational from medicinal use
  • Republican lawmaker says it won’t be a priority for Trump

Hickenlooper: I Wouldn’t Give Up on Pot Legalization

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said he expects the Justice Department to increase enforcement of laws prohibiting the recreational use of marijuana, a departure from the Obama administration’s less aggressive stance as states began legalizing recreational as well as medical use of the drug.

“There are two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana,” Spicer told reporters Thursday. “There’s still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”

The Justice Department could decide to enforce federal law and shut down businesses in the medical and recreational cannabis industries even in states where they have been made legal. That would be an about-face from the Obama administration’s policy of deferring to the states, saying it would concentrate on matters such as preventing distribution to minors, drugged driving and blocking revenue from going to gangs and criminals.

While President Donald Trump has called legalizing marijuana for anything other than medicinal use a “bad” experiment, he also has said it’s a matter for the states. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was similarly ambiguous on the matter during his confirmation hearings, though he has previously come out strongly against the drug.

‘Not a Priority’

Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, where marijuana production and distribution has become an established industry, spoke with Sessions before his confirmation about the business in his state and was assured there will be no sudden changes in policy.

“That was the take-away from my conversation with Jeff,” Gardner said. “It’s not a priority of the Trump administration.”

Cannabis is legal for recreational adult use in eight states and Washington, D.C. They include California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, which all voted to legalize the drug this November. That means one in five American adults can smoke, eat or drink marijuana as they please. Medical use is allowed in 28 states. Legalized cannabis was a $6 billion industry in 2016 and is estimated to reach $50 billion by 2026, according to Cowen & Co.

“I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of it,” Spicer said of the federal ban on marijuana. 

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment.

— With assistance by Shannon Pettypiece, Chris Strohm, and Steven T. Dennis

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