White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer caused a bit of chaos among state lawmakers and cannabis business leaders last month after he alluded to a federal crackdown on states that have passed adult use cannabis laws. Spicer told reporters that the Trump administration had no plans to uphold the Obama-era policy of allowing states to implement recreational marijuana laws.
Despite President Trump repeatedly saying he supports the right of states to decide on marijuana legislation, the nation’s legal marijuana industry has been weary following the nomination and eventual confirmation of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a vocal opponent to legal cannabis. Spicer’s recent comments have boosted those concerns.
“There is still a federal law we need to abide by in terms of when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature,” Spicer said at the February 23 press conference.
When reporters asked whether states that have legalized adult use cannabis could be targeted, Spicer responded, “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement.”
What would a Crackdown mean for the Nation’s Cannabis Industry?
Since the passing of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, marijuana has been federally prohibited and classified as a Schedule I substance. Despite federal law, 28 states have passed laws allowing marijuana for medical purposes and eight of those have also legalized it for recreational use.
Despite the legal cannabis market industry being in its infancy, it’s growing faster than the 2000s dot-com boom. The market, valued at $6.7 billion in 2016, is projected to have a gross domestic growth rate of 25 percent and exceed $21 billion by 2010. Colorado, the oldest recreational marijuana state, eclipsed $1.3 billion in sales last year.
Enforcement of federal laws against marijuana by the Trump administration would jeopardize $2.5 billion projected revenue this year alone, and $8.6 billion by 2020, according to a recent report from cannabis market research firm New Frontier Data, and would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
“Legal cannabis has been one of the fastest growing industries in the country for the past three years and any disruptions would substantially impact the economic activity stemming from the industry,” said New Frontier CEO and Founder Giadha Aguirre De Carcer, in a statement.
“While the Trump administration’s recent comments on recreational marijuana are not as progressive as hoped and fly in the face of current state-level cannabis trends; the Washington Beltway views are not likely to slow the move toward more progressive cannabis state / international trends. As a society, cannabis dialogue continues to move forward, and we’re excited that now over 90% of Americans acknowledge the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids and support legal access for medicinal usage. A growing majority percentage now favors recreational usage of cannabis with successful “experiments” in Colorado and Washington. Our mission is to change the way the world thinks of cannabis, knowing that not all cannabis is psychoactive. Our family of companies continues to be focused on the health and wellness benefits of legal cannabinoids,” Titus said.
Should Marijuana Businesses Be Worried?
Concerns among cannabis-friendly entrepreneurs, lawmakers, and advocates may not be warranted. According to Politico, Sessions reportedly provided some private assurances to senators before he was confirmed that, despite his personal objections to adult use marijuana, he didn’t foresee a major shift in enforcement.
“[Sessions] told me he would have respect for states’ right on these things. And so I’ll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of those places. And that’s not [what] my interpretation of my conversation with him was. That this wasn’t his intention,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), as quoted by Politico.
Not leaving things to chance, a large group of bipartisan senators, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), sent a letter recently urging Sessions to continue with the Obama administration’s hands-off policy to implementing federal marijuana laws.
“Do they really respect states’ krights? Then you should respect all of them, not just pick and choose the ones that you want to support or not,” said Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).