The marijuana industry was recently shaken up after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he expects the Department of Justice to boost enforcement of federal laws restricting recreational cannabis, even in states where it is legal already. Along with the District of Columbia, eight states have legalized recreational use among adults. That means one in five American adults can smoke, vape, drink, or eat cannabis under state law.
Over 50% of the nation’s states have legalized medical cannabis despite federal laws restricting its sale. According to Cowen & Co., the industry is estimated to be worth more than $6 billion and will hit $50 billion by 2026. Derek Peterson, CEO of marijuana cultivator Terra Tech Corp. stated, “Today’s news coming out of the administration regarding the adult use of cannabis is, of course, disappointing. We have hoped and still hope that the federal government will respect states’ rights in the same manner they have on several other issues.”
Spicer sought to analyze the prospect of federal enforcement for medical, versus recreational, marijuana use, saying “there’s still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.” Spicer’s statements revived industry concern that first arose when Republican President Donald Trump’s short-list of potential attorney general nominees emerged. The final pick, former senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama has long opposed cannabis use, but is a major proponent of state’s rights.
In his mid-January confirmation hearing, Sessions said he wouldn’t “commit to never enforcing federal law” but added that “absolutely it’s a problem of resources for the federal government.” He said that if Congress felt cannabis possession should no longer be illegal, it “should pass a law.” Trump has similarly gone back and forth on the issue of legalization. A restriction on the industry would reverse existing federal policy and go against public opinion. The Obama administration largely deferred to the states, instead focusing on preventing distribution to minors, blocking sales across state lines, and keeping it out of the hands of gangs and criminals. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University found 71% of voters think “the government should not enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational use.”
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