Donald Trump says he has never smoked pot — and apparently he’s not a fan of people who do.
Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, suggested on Thursday that the Trump administration could crack down on the 8 states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Spicer said the Justice Dept. would be “further looking into” the question of whether to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws more aggressively, and went on to say, “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of it.”
That would be an abrupt change from the federal policies of the last several years, and a big setback for the burgeoning legal marijuana industry. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which means federal law prohibits its use. But after Colorado and Washington declared recreational pot legal in 2012, President Obama famously said, “we’ve got bigger fish to fry,” indicating that his administration would look the other way instead of enforcing the federal law, which preempts state law.
Weed enthusiasts hoped Trump would be just as chill. In 2015, Trump said the question of legalizing pot should be a “state issue, state-by-state,” which, essentially it has been. A January report from a publication called Marijuana Business Daily concluded that “we will see a continuation of some form of the status quo.”
But the Trump administration has now signaled for the first time that it may disrupt the status quo. And the chief disrupter may not be Trump himself, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is a longtime foe of legal marijuana. During his confirmation hearing in January, Sessions was noncommittal on the issue, leaving himself open to either continuing the Obama policy or getting tougher. “I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law,” he said, somewhat elliptically.
Spicer’s reference to “greater enforcement” suggests the Trump administration is now forming a more coherent policy on the issue. Legalized pot has grown into a $5 billion business, with California, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska, Massachusetts, Maine and the District of Columbia also legalizing the drug for recreational use since 2012. Another 19 states allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes. Polls show 60% of Americans support the idea of legal marijuana, the highest level on record.
Spicer did stipulate the importance of medical marijuana, suggesting Trump would continue to allow that. Still, Trump would be swimming against the tide if he cracked down on pot at all, and the federal government probably doesn’t have the budget or personpower to police pot on a dealer-by-dealer basis. But Trump is shaping himself as a law-and-order president, and might figure it’s important to win points with anti-drug purists, even if they’re a minority.
If Trump were to crack down on legal pot, it would certainly discourage investment in an industry that’s evolving from a patchwork of pop-up shops to a more regulated and professionalized sector with brands and standards. Trump can’t close every pot boutique, but he can interfere with funding, limit growth and just be a buzzkill. Maybe pot CEOs should seek an invitation to the White House, to tell the president how they feel about Washington interference in their business.
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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman
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