White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday drew a bright-line distinction between medical and recreational marijuana, suggesting that the Justice Department may change the previous administration’s policies towards drug enforcement.
Spicer made his comments at the daily press briefing in response to a question about a law adopted by Arkansas voters in November to allow medical marijuana.
“There’s a big difference between that and recreational marijuana.”
“There’s a big difference between that and recreational marijuana,” he said. “And I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people [to use marijuana] … So I think there’s a big difference between medical marijuana … vs. recreational marijuana. That’s a very, very different subject.”
Spicer noted that Congress inserted language into a spending bill prohibiting federal prosecutions of medical marijuana users.
“That’s very different from the recreational use, which is something that the Department of Justice I think will be further looking into,” he said.
He said he believes there will be “greater enforcement” of recreational marijuana.
Spicer referred additional questions to the Justice Department, which declined to comment.
Spicer’s comments drew alarm from the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for pot legalization. Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Washington-based organization, pointed to a recent Quinnipiac University poll suggesting that 59 percent of Americans favor full legalization of marijuana.
“The vast majority of Americans agree that the federal government has no business interfering in state marijuana laws,” Tvert said in an email to LifeZette. “This administration is claiming that it values states’ rights, so we hope they will respect the rights of states to determine their own marijuana policies. It is hard to imagine why anyone would want marijuana to be produced and sold by cartels and criminals rather than tightly regulated, taxpaying businesses.”
But Kevin Sabet, who served as drug czar in former President Barack Obama’s administration, told LifeZette that the issue should be about public heath and safety, not states’ rights. The president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana wrote in an email that he hopes the Trump administration will keep that in mind.
“The current situation is unsustainable,” he wrote. “States that have legalized marijuana continue to see a black market for the drug, increased rates of youth drug use, continued high rates of alcohol sales, and interstate trafficking, with drug dealers taking advantage of non-enforcement.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is known as a marijuana hard-liner who said during an April 2016 Senate hearing that, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” As his confirmation hearing last month, he refused to “commit to never enforcing federal law.”
At the same time, Sessions suggested that limited resources would make it unlikely that marijuana prosecutions would be a top priority. He also suggested that he would move cautiously with respect to prosecuting marijuana businesses that are legal under some state laws.
Sessions said guidelines put in place by the previous administration were “truly valuable.”
Federal marijuana prosecutions have been on the decline, dropping by 31.9 percent from June 2012 to June 2016, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Spicer said Trump has much sympathy for people who use marijuana medicinally.
“The president understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing, especially terminal diseases, and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them,” he said.
Spicer referred specific questions about non-medicinal marijuana to the Justice Department.
“But I believe that they are going to continue to enforce the laws on the books with respect to recreational marijuana,” he said.
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