On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer appeared to signal that a federal crackdown on recreational marijuana was looming.
Spicer made a clear distinction between recreational marijuana and medical marijuana—which Congress has repeatedly protected with an appropriations rider (i.e. the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment). Regarding the federal laws against recreational use, however, Spicer said, “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of it.”
While the fear of a crackdown drove many investors to sell (contrary to Warren Buffett’s rule: “Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.”), the reaction from cannabis industry insiders was mixed. While many business owners and employees worried about their jobs, others found comfort in Spicer’s tacit endorsement of medical marijuana.
Still others indicated a ready willingness to fight. The folks behind the NORML Twitter stream, for example, were fired up and ready for a fight. The following are a few of their standout tweets:
— NORML (@NORML) February 24, 2017
— NORML (@NORML) February 23, 2017
— NORML (@NORML) February 24, 2017
Is this Really Happening?
For all the high drama surrounding Spicer’s Press Briefing, however, it’s still not entirely clear that anything has changed. With barely a month under its belt, the Trump administration has already gained a reputation for being inconsistent and unclear, often failing to get the story straight, sometimes spreading false information, or “alternative facts.”
In fact, Spicer himself, not always the most reliable spokesperson, seemed to backtrack on his marijuana crackdown comments in the same press briefing only minutes later. When ABC News White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega pressed Spicer, “you said there will be greater enforcement,” Spicer was briefly in denial. “No, no,” he said, “I know. I know what I—I think—then that’s what I said. But I think the Department of Justice is the lead on that. It is something that you should follow up with them, but I believe that they are going to continue to enforce the laws on the books with respect to recreational marijuana versus…”
Spicer essentially went from “greater enforcement” to “continue to enforce” in a matter of minutes, leaving the impression that the issue of a cannabis crackdown is not really settled after all. Perhaps Spicer is just “once again, speaking out of turn,” Colorado Congressman Jared Polis suggested.
Building a Case Against a Crackdown
Of course, if this does turn out to be an early warning sign, the Trump administration does not have either logic, science, or public opinion polls on their side.
In fact, only minutes earlier in the same White House Press Briefing, referring to Trump’s position on transgender students, Spicer said, “we are a states’ rights party.” When questioned further on the issue, Spicer added, “what he doesn’t want to do is force his issues or beliefs down—he believes it’s a states’ rights issue…”
Really, Spicer? Then why is that not also the case with recreational marijuana? As Robert Capecchi of the Marijuana Policy Project put it, “To have Mr. Spicer say in one sentence that they’re a states’ rights administration and in the very next sentence say they’re going to crack down…it just defies logic.”
Speaking of logic, Spicer also suggested that marijuana legalization was exacerbating the opioid crisis in America. Referring specifically to recreational marijuana, Spicer said, “I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people.”
Unfortunately, this statement also flies in the face of known science, as well as the data coming out of states where recreational marijuana has been legalized. The idea that marijuana is a gateway drug has been thoroughly discredited by medical research. What’s more, the research data indicates that legalizing marijuana is having the opposite effect on the opioid crisis. As Alex Kasprak writes in a Snopes article that meticulously debunks Spicer’s wild assertion, “Perhaps just as pernicious as the falsehood implicit in Spicer’s press conference regarding the potential link between cannabis and opioids is his omission (or ignorance) of the fact that studies increasingly suggest that cannabis legalization results in a reduction of opioid overdoses.”
A new Columbia University study also found that cannabis is actually “helping to curb the opioid epidemic.” After examining data from 18 different states over a 15 year period, the authors of the study conclude, “in states with medical marijuana laws, fewer individuals are using opioids.”
But the case against a cannabis crackdown is not just a matter of ideological consistency (“we are a states’ rights party”), or scientific evidence, or even the numbers and research data coming out of the states that have legalized recreational marijuana; there is also the matter of public opinion. And public opinion shows that this would be a foolish time for the Trump administration—which appears to be overwhelmed with the responsibilities of running the government as it is—to attempt to take a stand against recreational marijuana.
In fact, a new Quinnipiac University poll (PDF) also came out on Thursday that shows 71 percent of voters now think “the government should not enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational use.” Only 23 percent of voters think the government should crack down on states where marijuana has been legalized—which puts the Trump administration in a small minority, and portends a significant backlash should Spicer’s rambling remarks prove to have any validity.
The Quinnipiac poll also revealed that 93 percent of voters now support legalizing medical marijuana. Fortunately, according to Spicer, Trump also supports medical marijuana and does not plan to crack down on the states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.
Is It Time for a Showdown?
Perhaps a showdown between the federal government and the states that have legalized marijuana is inevitable. Perhaps Spicer’s remarks will help to force the issue and, ultimately, bring the long-awaited resolution we need. Perhaps this will prove to be the executive overreach that will motivate Congress to finally, decisively act to defend states’ rights.
One of the numerous cannabis activists to respond to the remarks of Trump’s Press Secretary was Tommy Chong of the famous Grammy Award–winning comedy duo Cheech & Chong, who took a decidedly optimistic attitude. “Of course Trump is going after legal marijuana,” he tweeted, “but like the failed Muslim ban it will be defeated in court. Don’t worry stay High.”