Industry response — The cannabis industry was rattled Thursday after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he expects the Department of Justice to increase enforcement of federal laws prohibiting recreational pot, even in states where it’s already legal.
Along with the District of Columbia, eight states have legalized recreational use among adults, including California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada just this past November. That means one in five American adults can smoke, vape, drink, or eat cannabis as they please under state law. Meanwhile, over half of the nation’s states have legalized medical marijuana despite federal laws prohibiting its sale. The industry is estimated to be worth north of $6 billion and will hit $50 billion by 2026, according to Cowen & Co.
“Today’s news coming out of the administration regarding the adult use of cannabis is, of course, disappointing,” Derek Peterson, CEO of marijuana cultivator Terra Tech Corp., said Thursday in a statement. “We have hoped and still hope that the federal government will respect states’ rights in the same manner they have on several other issues.”
Some in the cannabis industry see the federal reversal as a contradiction of the administration’s stated positions on state’s rights and job creation.
“To have Mr. Spicer say in one sentence that they’re a states’ rights administration and in the very next sentence say they’re going to crack down … it just defies logic,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization that lobbies for pot-friendly changes to drug-related legislation.
— Bloomberg News
State Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, in a prepared statement Friday said federal authorities need to back off any intent to tamper with legal marijuana in Oregon.
“I hope the new President and Attorney General keep their hands off Oregon’s marijuana law,” Buehler stated in a news release. “They should respect the will of the voters and honor state’s rights. Federal intervention will only make a legal market a black market once again.”
Thursday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he expects greater enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug for recreational purposes. Spicer, according to The Washington Post, at a press briefing said President Donald Trump sees a difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana.
Use of recreational marijuana “is something the Justice Department, I think, will be further looking into,” Spicer said.
Recreational marijuana retailers in Oregon sell about $7 million worth of cannabis every week, or about $364 million a year. The newly created legal cannabis industry is hampered by lack of access to banking and other services because federal law still classifies the drug as illegal, with no medicinal benefits.
Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon, said he sees the potential value in cannabis for treatment of opioid addiction, chronic pain and anxiety. But he would not recommend it to a patient, something that’s better done by physicians who make cannabis a specialty, he said.
Buehler serves on the Oregon House Revenue Committee, which this week heard from officials that more than half of state tax payments from cannabis businesses arrives in cash due to the reluctance of banks to provide account services. Spicer’s remarks will not help solve that problem, Buehler said.
“It certainly makes people less willing to continue to pursue solutions for banking,” he said. “This is a big problem to be solved, the last big problem to be solved in regard to recreational marijuana in Oregon.”
Buehler’s district is home to 17 retail cannabis shops in addition to several indoor cannabis farms, testing labs, processors and wholesalers. He said he’s heard from several constituents that opposed Spicer’s remarks but none who supported them. Even if enforcement is not pursued, the suggestion it could be could dampen progress toward a mature business climate around marijuana, he said.
“I just think we’ve had very successful implementation of marijuana access in Oregon and I think it’s important to educate and explain to the new administration and the Attorney General that this issue is being handled quite well in Oregon,” Buehler said. “This is a model for states that choose to go this route.”
His remarks echo those of U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, who Thursday made his own response to Spicer’s remarks.
“I am deeply disappointed by Sean Spicer’s statement that he expects states to see ‘greater enforcement’ and crackdown on adult use of marijuana,” according to Blumenauer’s website. “The national prohibition of cannabis has been a failure, and millions of voters across the country have demanded a more sensible approach. I’m looking forward to working with the leadership of our newly formed cannabis caucus to ensure that Oregonian’s wishes are protected and that we end the failed prohibition on marijuana.”
U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Oregon Democrats, likewise weighed in with critical remarks.
“These comments from the White House are unfortunate and will only spread confusion and fear,” according to a statement from Merkley’s office. “Residents in Oregon, and in the growing number of states moving in this direction, will actually be made less safe if federal policy moves in the opposite direction from state policy. Already, our communities are at greater risk of crime and robbery because banks won’t provide services for fear of being in conflict with federal law, forcing businesses to operate all in cash.”
A potential crackdown would undermine legal businesses and drive cannabis back into the black market, Merkley stated.
“I urge the Trump administration to follow its own rhetoric on ‘state’s rights,’” according to his statement, “and to respect the voters of Oregon and the many other states who have decided at the ballot to legalize recreational marijuana use.”
Wyden’s office issued a similar statement attributed to him: “The federal government needs to respect the decisions of Oregon voters. Instead, the Trump administration is threatening states’ rights, including the rights of one in five Americans who live in a state where marijuana is legal.”
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use by adults. Cracking down on those states is misguided, Wyden stated.
“Wasting taxpayer dollars and burdening our law-enforcement agencies to go after law-abiding recreational marijuana users distracts from going after criminals and threats to our safety,” according to his news release. “I will fight hard against ridiculous federal government intrusions into our state.”
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, whose congressional district includes Central Oregon, did not respond to a request to his office for comment.
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