The fight against legal recreational marijuana is a battle millions of Americans have already asked the Trump administration not to wage.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer echoed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Feb. 24, saying he believes there will be increased enforcement against the use of recreational pot.
Hours before the announcement, however, Quinnipiac University released a poll that shows 71 percent of Americans believe the federal government shouldn’t enforce the laws against recreational use of cannabis.
I agree because fighting permissive marijuana policies by several states limits job growth and hinders states’ rights.
In 2016, voters in four states approved measures legalizing recreational use of marijuana, while three states legalized medicinal pot. More people in Florida, for instance, voted to expand medical marijuana than voted for Donald Trump. Twenty-eight states now permit either medicinal marijuana or recreational use. All those states have strict limits on the possession and distribution of marijuana. In Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, for example, you can only possess 1 ounce of marijuana.
The cannabis industry not only creates American jobs and economic growth, but also is in line with Trump’s “America First” mentality. Legal pot distribution promotes safe access, rather than illegal drug transactions. The industry became a $6.9 billion juggernaut in 2016, and is expected to grow to $21 billion by 2021, according to the Arcview Market Research Group, which conducts cannabis market research. Overall, the industry is expected to support roughly a quarter million jobs by 2020, according to New Frontier Data, which provides data solutions for the cannabis industry. This projection would put the marijuana industry ahead of the manufacturing industry in the United States by the same year. So why is there a double standard in the Trump administration for promoting manufacturing, but denouncing marijuana?
Fighting these states also would mean expanding the federal government’s intervention in state affairs, something Trump opposed just two days before Spicer’s statement when the administration rescinded federal protections for transgender people, saying transgender rights were “best left for states and local communities to decide.” And while transgender protections and drug policy are two separate federal issues, the idea of state rights above all else is something the Republican Party routinely champions, but often pursues inconsistently.
Highlighting the inconsistencies, PolitiFact, a national fact-checking website, concluded that Trump supported states’ rights for legalizing marijuana three times. Trump was quoted saying, “I’d leave it up to the states, absolutely,” during an interview with KUSA-TV in Colorado in 2016.
In 2013, the federal government pulled back on laws prohibiting marijuana use, and issued a memo that made it clear that “prosecuting state legal medicinal marijuana cases is not a priority.” Last year, President Barack Obama told Rolling Stone that the drug should be treated as a “public health issue.” He said: “It is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that’s legal in one state could get you a 20-year prison sentence in another.”
Lawmakers from Oregon, Colorado and Nevada have supported their states’ laws on the use of marijuana. Nevada, which hasn’t even completed the legalization framework, has promised to continue implementing recreational pot. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval promised a 10 percent tax on all pot sales would go directly to the state’s education budget, which is something Colorado is already doing.
The Trump administration also would have to fund this bluster. The Drug Enforcement Agency has a budget of roughly $2 billion. In its 2017 overview, the agency promised to “prioritize resources to disrupt and dismantle the ‘most wanted’ drug trafficking and money laundering organizations.” Every dollar spent going after a pot grower in a state that has legalized marijuana use, is one that cannot be spent on thwarting a group from the most wanted list.
Sessions has called marijuana a “gateway drug” and said that it has led to increased crime, but there’s is no evidence to suggest either based on the experience of states where marijuana has been legalized. While overall crime ticked up in Colorado in 2016, drug-related crimes in 2015 fell by 23 percent and marijuana-related crimes plummeted by 80 percent, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, a group aimed at promoting drug policies.
And while there is a correlation between pot use and other drug use, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has concluded that those in a position to be susceptible to drug use probably have easier access to marijuana as their first drug. Signaling, once again, that correlation doesn’t prove causation.
The White House and the attorney general have not outlined a strategy to intervene with state-mandated legalized marijuana. But if the administration moves forward, the precedent of a war on the state legal use of a drug will be more puzzling than helpful.