The past few years have been banner ones for legalizing recreational marijuana. Colorado and Washington became the first states in 2012 to make cannabis for fun available to the 21 and up crowd. Since then, six more states have done the same, and medical marijuana is now legal in an additional 20. With Arizona being the only state to vote down a ballot measure for recreational weed during the 2016 election, the pot industry looked all set to celebrate a remarkably successful four year streak of legalization victories. But then, along came the unexpected White House win for President Trump. And as Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently signaled, the new Trump administration may be cracking down on recreational weed.
"That's a question for the Department of Justice." So went Spicer's initial answer at Wednesday's daily briefing, responding to a reporter's question about how the federal government would approach states that had legalized marijuana. Spicer went on to immediately say, "I do believe you'll see greater enforcement of it." The "it" here referring to federal law, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin.
A drug gets placed in the Schedule I category by having a "high potential for abuse" and zero medical value — widespread acceptance of medicinal marijuana notwithstanding, apparently. To put it briefly, weed is still very much illegal, according to the federal government.
The illegality of marijuana at the federal level is not new. President Obama dealt with the conflict by choosing not to enforce the federal law, turning a more or less blind eye on states that legalized recreational weed.
Sean Spicer likened recreational marijuana to the opioid crisis during the press conference: https://t.co/jvMToNvDHR— VICE (@VICE) February 23, 2017
According to Spicer, the Trump team will be taking a different approach. After specifying that medicinal marijuana has been approved by Congress through an appropriations rider, Spicer said that was, "something very different" than recreational weed. As for the federal law as it stands on that issue, Spicer indicated more than once that "greater enforcement" was on its way.
Recreational marijuana advocates had reason to anticipate a crackdown after the appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The former senator from Alabama has a long record of outspoken opposition to marijuana use in general. In fact, one of the most circulated arguments against Sessions during his confirmation was a comment he made about the KKK. Sessions allegedly once joked that he thought the terrorist group was "OK until I found out they smoked marijuana."
Exactly what a federal crackdown on recreational marijuana will look like remains to be seen. But it seems likely that some kind of federal intervention is headed towards the pot industry.