The Justice Department will step up enforcement of federal law against recreational marijuana, White House spokesman Sean Spicer has said, offering the Trump administration’s strongest indication to date of a looming crackdown on the drug, even as a solid majority of Americans believe it should be legal. “I do believe you’ll see greater enforcement of it,” Spicer yesterday said in response to a question during a news conference. But he offered no details about what such enforcement would entail.
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President Donald Trump does not oppose medical marijuana, he added, but “that’s very different than recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into.” A renewed focus on recreational marijuana in states that have legalized pot would present a departure from the Trump administration’s statements in favor of states’ rights.
A day earlier, the administration announced that the issue of transgender student bathroom access was best left to states and local communities to decide. Enforcement would also shift away from marijuana policy under the Obama administration, which said in a 2013 memo that it would not intervene in state’s marijuana laws as long as they keep the drug from crossing state lines and away from children and drug cartels.
But the memo carried no force of law and could be rewritten by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has consistently said he opposes legal marijuana but has not indicated what he might do. Eight states and Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The Justice Department has several options available should it decide to enforce the law, including filing lawsuits on the grounds that state laws regulating pot are unconstitutional because they are pre-empted by federal law.
Enforcement could also be as simple as directing US attorneys to send letters to recreational marijuana businesses letting them know they are breaking the law. Washington’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson, said he and Gov Jay Inslee, both Democrats, requested a meeting with Sessions about his approach to legal, regulated marijuana.
Ferguson led the states in fighting off Trump’s executive order on immigration in court and said yesterday he’s prepared to lead the way in defending legal marijuana, too. “We will resist any efforts to thwart the will of the voters in Washington,” Ferguson said. Kevin Sabet, head of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said pot enforcement is needed for public safety and Spicer’s comments made him hopeful.