White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced Thursday, Feb. 23, that they expect federal law enforcement agents to start enforcing the federal marijuana laws even in states that have legalized the substance. Nevada became one of eight states and Washington, D.C. to decriminalize recreational marijuana after voters approved ballot question 2 in 2016.
“I do believe you will see greater enforcement of it,” said Spicer in the briefing. He did not state how or when the administration will start enforcing the federal law.
Spicer said President Donald Trump approves of medical marijuana and has seen the benefits it has to those fighting severe illnesses, but he does not believe in recreational marijuana.
Although President Trump said in Nevada during his campaign that marijuana is a state by state issue, people in the business have been waiting to see how his administration was going to handle the federal and state differences in drug laws.
“When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people,” Spicer said. “There is still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and drugs of that nature.”
Andrew Freedman, a former director of marijuana coordination for Colorado and a government consultant on how to implement marijuana laws, told Buzzfeed News that a federal crackdown on marijuana would lead to odd circumstances in states that have legalized the substance.
“We would have no powers in the state to arrest people selling marijuana. Because it’s on the state side, it’s legal,” Freedman said. “So they’d have to send in the troops on the federal side in order to enforce the law, and that would be a pretty crazy situation.”
Oregon has started a committee to push legislation through that would require dispensaries to destroy patient information within 48 hours of their visit.
“I could see where the federal government would come in and try to gather this information from businesses that have stockpiled it and retained it in their records,” said Democratic state Sen. Floyd Prozansk to the Associated Press. “I think we as legislators have a duty to protect our citizens.”
The Obama administration had a more relaxed approach to marijuana. In 2013, the Department of Justice released an updated version of the Controlled Substance Act, which told federal enforcement how to handle investigations and busts involving marijuana.
“Congress has determined marijuana is a dangerous drug and the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime that provides a significant source of revenue to large-scale criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels,” said the CSA. “The Department is also committed to using its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats in the most effective, consistent and rational way.”
Opponents of marijuana are happy to hear the Trump administration is going to crackdown on the drug.
“This isn’t an issue about state’s rights, it’s an issue of public health and safety for communities,” said Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana to USA Today. “We’re hopeful that the Trump administration will pursue a smart approach to enforcement that prioritizes public health and safety over political ideology.”
In Nevada, state Sen. Tick Segerblom has been a driving force and long-time supporter of bringing marijuana to the state.
“I really feel it is the next step in Nevada’s evolution,” Segerblom said in a September interview with the Nevada Sagebrush. “We are known around the world: go to Nevada and have a good time. Do things you might not do back at home.”
Segerblom also told KNPR that the national polls show that 59 percent of people approve of recreational marijuana and 80 percent believe the state has the right to decide.
“It flies against what the President said, that he believes in states rights,” said Segerblom during the KNPR interview. “This is the ultimate states rights issue. Let each state decide for itself what they want to do.”
According to USA Today and New Frontier Data, a company that tracks industry trends, the marijuana business is supposed to create 250,000 jobs across the country and generate $24 billion of revenue by 2020.
RCG Economics and the Marijuana Policy Group expect Nevada’s economy will have similar benefits once recreational marijuana comes to the state in June or July.
In September, they estimated the state’s annual marijuana sales will create a revenue of $485 million by 2024 and $1 billion will be added directly to the Nevada economy. The tax revenue from 2018-2024 is estimated to be more than $460 million.
“I think if [Trump] wants to go forward with that he’s going to run into huge protests and huge obstacles, on top of the fact that it would obviously harm Nevada,” said Segerblom during the KNPR interview.
Madeline Purdue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @madelinepurdue.