He did not articulate any new policy positions for the administration, which was good, because Donald Trump entered the White House with the best position on marijuana policy of any incoming president in modern history. Most notably, he has repeatedly said that states should be able to establish their own marijuana policies, without contradiction. He has also expressed support for legal access to medical marijuana, which Spicer mentioned.
Nevertheless, several media outlets leapt to the conclusion that the federal government is surely planning an all-out assault on state marijuana laws. I was also surprised to see that allies within the marijuana policy reform movement were also contriving a fight where none exists. According to a hyperbolic statement from one allied organization, “Spicer declared war on much of the cannabis community yesterday when he announced the Trump administration intends to engage in the ‘greater enforcement’ of federal anti-marijuana laws.”
But Spicer did not “declare” anything. He was not proactively announcing a prepared, written policy on behalf of the Trump administration. Quite the opposite, he was reactively offering an impromptu, oral opinion on behalf of himself. Those are important distinctions.
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In response to statements made by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer last week, Colorado Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg said that he does not think the federal government will crack down the legal marijuana market in states where it is legal for adult consumption.
Denver Post reports:
“I’m not sure I’d put too much thought or too much credit into what he was saying,” Sonnenberg told reporters Monday morning. “This president has been all about federalism and giving the states more authority, this just flies in the face of that. So I would anticipate not much coming from that.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper downplayed the suggestion a day earlier in a “Meet the Press” interview, affirming that he didn’t believe the federal government would target states like Colorado that legalized weed.
Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner has suggested a change in federal policy toward states on marijuana is unlikely, but Sonnenberg’s comments are the most forceful Republican pushback against the White House on the issue since the announcement Thursday.
“Colorado has been the leader when it comes to marijuana and the regulation,” he said. “People look to us for leadership, and I don’t think our new president will turn his back on allowing states to do what they need to do, whether (marijuana) or anything else.”
MPP will continue to monitor the Dept. of Justice for more info on their intended policy going forward.
White House Comments on Marijuana Policy; Poll Finds 71% of U.S. Voters Want Feds to Respect State Marijuana Laws
Just hours after a national poll was released showing widespread support for marijuana policy reform and staunch opposition to federal interference in state marijuana laws, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer caused a stir by making some comments about marijuana enforcement during a press briefing.
Specifically, he reiterated President Trump's support for legal access to medical marijuana, noting that the current budget prohibits the Department of Justice from interfering in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. He said that recreational marijuana use is a different issue and suggested there would be "greater enforcement" of federal marijuana laws in states that have more broadly legalized marijuana. It was unclear what he meant the federal government would be interfering in such laws or simply stepping up enforcement against individuals who are violating them. President Trump said during his campaign that marijuana law should be left to the states.
MPP issued the following statement in response to Spicer's comments:
“The vast majority of Americans agree that the federal government has no business interfering in state marijuana laws. This administration is claiming that it values states’ rights, so we hope they will respect the rights of states to determine their own marijuana policies. It is hard to imagine why anyone would want marijuana to be produced and sold by cartels and criminals rather than tightly regulated, taxpaying businesses. Mr. Spicer says there is a difference between medical and recreational marijuana, but the benefits of and need for regulation apply equally to both.
“Mr. Spicer acknowledged that the Justice Department is currently prohibited from using funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. It is critical that Congress once again includes that provision in the next budget, and we are hopeful that they will also adopt a provision that extends that principle to all state marijuana laws.”
According to the Quinnipiac University Poll released earlier in the day, the vast majority of U.S. voters support making marijuana legal and think the federal government should respect state marijuana laws. The nationwide survey of 1,323 voters found that five out of seven voters (71%) — including majorities of Republicans, Democrats, independents, and every age group polled — oppose the government enforcing federal prohibition laws in states that have made marijuana legal for medical or adult use.
The Quinnipiac poll also found that 93% of voters support allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes and 59% support making it legal for all purposes. The results appear to be in line with national polls released by Gallup and the Pew Research Center in October, which found support for ending marijuana prohibition at 60% and 57%, respectively.
On Wednesday, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions was narrowly confirmed as the new Attorney General in a 51-47 vote, split largely along party lines.
MPP released the following statement from its federal policies director, Robert Capecchi:
"MPP remains cautiously optimistic that the Trump administration will refrain from interfering in state marijuana laws. When asked about his plans for marijuana enforcement, Attorney General Sessions said he ‘echo[es]’ the position taken by Loretta Lynch during her confirmation hearings. He repeatedly acknowledged the scarcity of enforcement resources, and he said he would ensure they are used as effectively as possible to stop illicit drugs from being trafficked into the country.
"President Trump has consistently said that states should be able to determine their own marijuana laws, and his spokesperson made it clear that the attorney general will be implementing the Trump agenda. We are hopeful that Mr. Sessions will follow the president’s lead and respect states’ rights on marijuana policy.
“A strong and growing majority of Americans think marijuana should be made legal, and an even stronger majority think the federal government should respect state marijuana laws. Eight states have adopted laws that regulate and tax marijuana for adult use, and 28 states now have laws that regulate marijuana for medical use. It would be shocking if the Trump administration attempted to steamroll the citizens and governments in these states to enforce an increasingly unpopular federal policy.”
Sessions was asked about marijuana policy on multiple occasions during the confirmation process. During his oral testimony, he conspicuously refrained from committing to enforce federal marijuana prohibition laws in states that are regulating marijuana for medical and adult use, noting the scarcity of resources available. In his written testimony, he said he “echo[es]” the comments made by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, when she was asked about marijuana enforcement during her confirmation hearing.
President Donald Trump has consistently said that he supports legal access to medical marijuana and believes states should be able to determine their own marijuana policies. During a January appearance on Fox News Channel, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer signaled that Sessions would adhere to Trump’s position that states should be able to establish their own marijuana policies. “When you come into a Trump administration, it’s the Trump agenda you’re implementing and not your own,” he said. “I think Senator Sessions is well aware of that.”