Communities are rising up green and steeling for a “states’ rights” battle over the cultivation and sale of recreational marijuana — despite a warning about a crackdown by the federal government.
“There’s still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said last week. “Recreational use … is something the Department of Justice will be looking into,” he said, emphasizing: “I do believe you’ll see greater enforcement” of federal law.
Pot remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, even though recreational use of marijuana has been approved in eight states and Washington, D.C. It’s legal for medical use in 30 states.
Now growers, smokers and even state officials are preparing to guard the crop across the nation. A major concern is revenue. The non-profit Tax Foundation estimates that a mature legalized marijuana industry would generate up to $28 billion in tax revenue for federal, state and local governments. Colorado raked in $70 million in taxes in 2015, exceeding expectations.
A report on jobs predicts that the legal marijuana industry in the U.S. could create more than 250,000 jobs by the year 2020, Forbes reports. That’s more than projected job gains from manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In Washington, the first state with Colorado to legalize recreational use of the drug, the state attorney general vowed to defy a federal crackdown.
“I will resist any efforts by the Trump administration to undermine the will of the voters in Washington state,” Ferguson told the Seattle Times.
Ferguson and state Gov. Jay Inslee sent a letter Feb. 15 to U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions outlining the arguments for keeping pot legal in the state, not least of which is that the legitimate marijuana industry is expected to generate a whopping increase of $272 million in taxes in 2017.
A federal crackdown would only force the industry “back underground, returning bumper profits to criminal groups while once again depleting government resources,” the letter adds.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper opposed legalizing marijuana until voters approved it in his state and it’s “now part of our constitution,” he said on NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday. “Over 60 percent of American people are now in a state where either medical or recreational marijuana is legalized. It’s become one of the great social experiments of our time.”
He told MSNBC on Friday: “I think it’s the wrong time to pull back from this experiment, and if the federal government’s going to come and begin closing in and arresting people that are doing what’s legal in different states, my god, it creates a level of conflict that’s going to be very difficult.”
In California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom fired off a letter on Friday to Donald Trump urging him to “work in partnership with California and the other … states that have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use.” The government “must not strip the legal and publicly-supported industry of its business, and hand it back to drug cartels and criminals,” he added.
California legalized recreational use of the drug in the last election. Officials for the state agency formulating specific pot regulations said last week that they’re proceeding with plans to license growers and sellers, despite Spicer’s warning.
“Until we see any sort of formal plan from the federal government, it’s full speed ahead for us,” Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, told the Los Angeles Times.
Republican California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has introduced a bill called “Respect State Marijuana Laws,” H.R. 975, which would block enforcement of federal laws against local operations that comply with states regulations on legalized pot. It has been co-sponsored by 14 members of Congress.
Rohrabacher is part of a new Congressional Cannabis Caucus which also includes GOP Rep. Don Young of Alaska and Democrats Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Colorado’s Jared Polis, Fortune reports.
Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden has also called on the federal government 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,” Wyden said. “I will fight hard against ridiculous federal government intrusions into our state.”
Recreational growers and users could switch horses for a time and move into the medical marijuana field, which doesn’t seem high on the administration’s radar. Or the business will simply go underground.
During his presidential campaign Donald Trump said marijuana use should be left “up to the states,” reinforcing a common Republican battle cry of “states rights.” Asked specifically in an interview in 2016 about legalized recreational use of marijuana in Colorado, Trump responded: “I think it’s up to the states, yeah. I’m a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.”
But he’s apparently changed his tune now, no doubt because of Sessions’ antipathy to the drug. Sessions said in April that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Spicer came under fire for linking marijuana use to opioid addictions. “You see the opioid addiction crisis blossoming, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging” marijuana use, Spicer said. A 2017 analysis of research literature by the National Academy of Sciences found little evidence linking marijuana use opioid addictions. Some medical experts even believe that marijuana could be used to help addicts wean themselves from opioids.
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