Cannabis Industry Not Happy With Sean Spicer's Prediction of "Greater Enforcement"

Within minutes of press secretary Sean Spicer's comment on February 23 that we can expect "greater enforcement" of marijuana laws by the Trump administration, outcries resounded throughout the marijuana industry.

"Over 60 percent of Americans support cannabis legalization. It is one of the few bipartisan issues that actually has the potential to unite us right now. Our country and many of our citizens are still recovering from the devastation of a failed Drug War. It would be a crime to waste any more resources prohibiting adult access to this safe, effective medicine," says Christie Strong, marketing communications manager for Kiva Confections.

Others warn the administration of a potential legal battle and take some hope in the fact that Spicer has previously made inaccurate statements from the press-secretary podium. "Sean Spicer's comments on recreational marijuana seem to be a disturbing departure from Trump's purported position on states' rights. We will have to see how this plays out. I suspect this issue will end up being litigated at the Supreme Court. Let's not forget, however, this is the same guy who falsely reported on the attendance at the inauguration," says Steve Gormley, CEO of Seventh Point LLC.

Danny Davis, managing partner at Convectium, hopes that Spicer's sentiments are not shared throughout the administration. "We are hopeful that Mr. Spicer’s comments are not representative of the entire administration," he says. "Many of the states that helped elect President Trump just voted to also support recreational marijuana. It is hard to imagine that he would push an agenda with the support ratings where they are. As an equipment company, we represent both the recreational and medicinal markets, but we would hate to see an action that would stop the current multi-state momentum for recreational."

Representative Jared Polis is doing what he can do protect Colorado's right to have a legal marijuana industry, no matter what happens at the federal level. Last week he co-founded Congress's Cannabis Caucus, and he was one of many legislators who released a statement in response to Spicer's comments.

"The President has said time and again that the decision about marijuana needs to be left to the states," Polis says. "Now, either the President is flip-flopping, or his staff is, once again, speaking out of turn. Either way, these comments leave doubt and uncertainty for the marijuana industry, stifling job growth in my state. The public has spoken on recreational marijuana, we've seen it work in Colorado, and now is the time to lift the federal prohibition."

Attorney Tom Downey, director at Ireland Stapleton and former head of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, says that if the administration were to attempt a shift in marijuana policy, it would not only face a fight from the marijuana industry, but also legal action. He cites the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which became law in December 2014 and marked the first time either chamber of Congress voted to protect medical-marijuana patients.

"It says they can't prevent a state from implementing its own laws around medical marijuana or hemp, and then it specifically talks about the states. It literally lists them: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut — it marches down each one and specifically says, you can't prevent these states from implementing their own state laws," Downey says.

The amendment passed a Congress under Republican control. "That's what is important here," he adds. "The truth is that there is such Republican support for the industry in Congress: It's the state's-rights side, it's the libertarian side, it's the pro-jobs side, it's that people have these businesses in their districts. That is the real political power here."

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, echoes Downey's take on the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, citing many of the same issues. "It would be a mistake for the Department of Justice to overthrow the will of the voters and state governments who have created carefully regulated adult-use marijuana programs. It would represent a rejection of the values of economic growth, limited government, and respect for federalism that Republicans claim to embrace," Smith says in a statement released February 23. "These programs are working. Marijuana interdictions at the Mexican border are down substantially, youth use has not increased in states with legal access to cannabis, and responsible cannabis businesses are contributing tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact to their communities."

Nate Wilson, CEO and Founder of NEOS, takes it a step further, citing the health risks of eliminating the regulated market.  "If you want to make cannabis less safe, push it back to the black market, where there's no oversight or testing for pesticides, molds or extraction residuals. Prohibition doesn't work, and Colorado has built an impressive system to ensure safety," he says.

Jeffrey Zucker, president of Green Lion Partners, cites the positive impact that cannabis legalization is having in the states where it's legal. "The comments from secretary Spicer are ignorant and disappointing, although not unexpected. The cannabis industry will fight any pressure from the federal government to set back the significant progress that's been made thus far," Zucker says. "The incredibly positive medical, social and economic impact cannabis legalization has had on regulated states is undeniable. Singling out the adult-use market is shortsighted. Perhaps most importantly, it's ignoring the will of the people, which national polls now show are in favor of full legalization. Offering safe and regulated cannabis serves to eliminate the illegitimate market and racial disparity in enforcement. I hope that the administration takes the time to truly immerse and educate themselves on cannabis before making any destructive decision."

Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, released a statement describing the economic impact should the industry shut down. "Today's news coming out of the administration regarding the adult use of cannabis is, of course, disappointing," he says. "We have hoped and still hope that the federal government will respect states' rights in the same manner they have on several other issues. The economic impact, job creation and tax collection associated with both medical and recreational legalization have been tremendous throughout the country. We hope the new administration really takes the time to understand that the money is either going into the states' coffers or making its way to drug cartels. We also hope that the states make a point of defending their independence in regards to this and protect their constituent."

Isaac Dietrich, CEO of MassRoots, notes that legalizing marijuana in Colorado has had unexpected positive impacts, including a decline in opioid deaths.  And he sees another silver lining for his own business. "Colorado is one of the only states in the nation that is seeing a decline in opioid deaths — that is not a coincidence," he says. "Cannabis is a healthy alternative to pain pills and heroin, not a gateway to it. I have a feeling our stock is going to take a beating tomorrow, but that just creates an opportunity for investors who believe in the long-term trajectory of the cannabis market. As a medical-cannabis-focused app, I believe MassRoots will actually benefit from this policy, as it will cut off funding for our competitors."

John Wickens, one of the first cannabis brokers in Colorado, has sold over 500,000 square feet of grows; he's worried about what will happen to the industries connected to cannabis. "If they were to crack down on rec, I would lose about 90 percent of my business," he says. "Grows with warehouse leases and their landlords will really lose out. The feds will kick out the tenants and also put pressure on the owner to remove their tenants; about 85 percent of growers in warehouses don't own their buildings. Landlords can charge two-thirds more per square foot to a cannabis grow than to regular use, so they'll lose on rent, and lose on the spaces they're now unable to rent because demand has been removed."
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Kate McKee Simmons interned at the National Catholic Reporter, was a reporter for the New York Post, and spent a brief stint in Israel learning international reporting before writing for Westword.