With the Trump administration suddenly sending what appear to be mixed signals on marijuana, a group of senators — mostly Democrats — are urging the new White House not to crack down on legal weed.
In a letter delivered to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, asked the Department of Justice to uphold the Obama administration’s policy allowing individual states to determine their own pot laws.
“We respectfully request that you uphold DOJ’s existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational marijuana use,” the senators wrote in the letter. “It is critical that states continue to implement these laws.”
The letter was cosigned by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.; and Michael Bennet, D-Colo. — all Democrats and most from states where marijuana is legal.
It comes less than a week after White House press secretary Sean Spicer suggested that the administration may press for “greater enforcement” of federal pot laws.
“There’s a big difference between [medical marijuana] and recreational marijuana, and I think 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 Thursday. “There is still a federal law that we need to abide by in terms of recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”
Spicer referred a reporter who asked about increased enforcement around recreational marijuana to the Department of Justice. But he added, “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of it.”
The statement sent a shock wave through the United States’ budding marijuana industry, which some analysts estimate could grow into a $24.5 billion business by 2025.
Under President Barack Obama, the Department of Justice left the enforcement of federal marijuana laws up to the states, allowing places like Colorado, Washington and Oregon to experiment with cannabis regulation. In an interview with the New Yorker published in early 2014, Obama famously said that he viewed marijuana as “a bad habit and a vice” but no more dangerous than alcohol.
“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” Obama said. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, 71 percent of Americans said they would oppose a federal crackdown on legal marijuana.
Before he was confirmed as attorney general, Sessions had told some members of the Senate that he would respect state laws and not change federal policy.
But earlier this week, Sessions told reporters that the Obama-era pot policy is under review.
“I’m definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” Sessions said, according to Politico. “States, they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”
Some lawmakers aren’t waiting around to find out whether a cannabis crackdown is coming.
Last week, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives (“Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017”) that would take marijuana off the federal controlled substances list — putting pot on par with alcohol and tobacco.
And in California, a bill introduced in the state Assembly would prevent state and local law enforcement agencies from using their resources to help federal authorities crack down on marijuana.
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