By now, many have seen the headlines: “White House Spokesman Predicts More Federal Action Against Marijuana” (NPR), “White House: Feds will step up marijuana law enforcement” (CNN), “Marijuana entrepreneurs try to stay calm after Spicer comments on weed” (CNBC). It is hard to believe a minute and a half out of an hour-long press briefing could cause so much commotion.
Let’s examine what White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer actually said. He essentially said two things. He distinguished medical marijuana from adult use, and he believes “you’ll see greater enforcement” of the Controlled Substance Act against recreational use.
Mr. Spicer did not say there were any imminent actions from the U.S. Department of Justice, the agency charged with enforcing federal law. In fact, he said the question of enforcement would be better addressed by the DOJ itself. Mr. Spicer was stating what he believes.
Here’s what I believe. I believe Mr. Spicer’s acknowledgement that the president supports state’s rights when it comes to medical marijuana is a positive development. Mr. Spicer also referenced the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, first passed in 2014, which currently prohibits the federal government from prosecuting medical marijuana in states where it is legal.
“The president understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing especially terminal diseases and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them,” Mr. Spicer said.
So at least on the question of medical marijuana, there seems to be broad consensus. Medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states and accounts for about three quarters of the burgeoning legal cannabis industry.
“Americans are realizing that prohibition has not stemmed consumption and only served to enrich drug cartels and unfairly imprison millions of people.”
But here’s the thing. Mr. Spicer’s opinion notwithstanding, there is growing consensus on adult use as well. The majority of Americans support full legalization. The number of states that have approved legalized recreational adult use doubled last November to eight, including my home state of California, the nation’s most populous state.
Americans are realizing that prohibition has not stemmed consumption and only served to enrich drug cartels and unfairly imprison millions of people. Whether you are for or against adult use, more and more people are realizing that the better path is to have a well-regulated industry, much like alcohol is today. It is safer for consumers, it is safer for the public, not to mention it creates tax revenue and jobs.
A week before Mr. Spicer spoke, something even more significant for the cannabis industry happened, but it didn’t get as much notice as the White House press briefing. A bipartisan group of congressional leaders announced the formation of the first ever Congressional Cannabis Caucus. The founders, U.S. representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Don Young (R-Alaska), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), vowed to sponsor and pass federal laws that protect states’ rights on cannabis issues, including adult use.
Mr. Rohrabacher, a long-time advocate of marijuana causes, earlier introduced the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to prohibit federal prosecution of marijuana buyers and sellers who comply with state laws.
Elsewhere in Congress, prominent legislators like U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have called for further reform, including clearer banking regulations and tax laws for the legal cannabis industry.
In the long-term, I see momentum building in favor of full legalization. Congress and the American people are on the right side of this issue, and we fully expect that the rest of the federal government will follow suit.
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