Sean Spicer’s recent comments regarding the recreational marijuana industry has triggered a wave of responses on social media and questions from my marijuana business clients. Spicer’s statement that the federal government would step up enforcement against recreational marijuana was particularly disconcerting. Spicer did note, however, in a follow-up comment that enforcement was up the Department of Justice rather than the White House. So far, the Department of Justice has been silent on this issue; and as with many of Spicer’s comments, these remarks on marijuana seemed unplanned and not well thought-out.
What does this all mean for licensed Washington Marijuana businesses? I think the realistic answer is that no one knows, which is pretty much the situation that we have found ourselves in since the Trump Administration came into power.
What we do know is that the State of Washington will resist any federal enforcement actions against its burgeoning marijuana industry. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson had an immediate and forceful response to Spicer’s comments promising to defend Washington’s recreational marijuana laws. Attorney General Ferguson and Governor Jay Inslee just sent a letter to Jeff Sessions last week asking for a meeting to discuss the state’s legalization of recreational marijuana. Whether Sessions will want to challenge an industry that is favored by the majority of American voters and generates billions of dollars in revenue is unknown.
Nonetheless it is hard not to try to imagine some possible scenarios for a federal crackdown. One possibility is that the feds allow states with regulatory systems in place to continue (i.e. Washington and Colorado) while precluding states that do not have a licensing system in place such as California from proceeding with its legalization program.
Alternatively if the feds seek enforcement in all states that have legalized recreational marijuana then Washington State will be faced with challenging federal enforcement in court as well as precluding state and local law enforcement officials from cooperating with the feds. There will likely also be some in the state that will urge reversion to a purely medical marijuana system.
Although there is no taking Spicer’s remarks in any positive light, the cannabis community can and should use this as an opportunity to forcefully lobby for the removal of marijuana as a Schedule I drug. If the marijuana business is ever to be safe from the winds of political change, Congress needs to take action and now may be the time to pressure your representatives to do so.
For more information on the regulation of marijuana businesses, please contact Heather Wolf.