Marijuana Industry Reacts to Potential "Greater Enforcement" of Federal Law

Policymakers and marijuana industry leaders prepare for potential action to enforce federal marijuana policy.

White House plans to interfere with recreational marijuana

After last week's White House press briefing, proponents of the marijuana industry are preparing for a federal crackdown.

Last Thursday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer statedthat he expects "greater enforcement" of federal laws on marijuana.

Marijuana is illegal at the federal level, classified as a Schedule I drug. This means that the federal government has deemed it addictive and without medical value.

During the briefing, Spicer compared growing marijuana use to opioid use. "When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming around so many states [...] the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people," he said. "There is still a federal law that we need to abide by [...] when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature."

Spicer stressed a distinction between the administration's stances on medical and recreational marijuana. Recreational use, Spicer said, "is something the Department of Justice [...] will be looking into."

It is uncertain what action the federal government will actually take. But California policymakers and marijuana industry leaders are preparing for many scenarios.

Overruling state marijuana policy & destructive economic results

If the government motions to overrule state marijuana policy, there is little that states could do. "I imagine that California will mount a legal challenge to any crackdown on recreational marijuana," saidAdam Winkler, professor at UCLA school of law. "Yet there is not much California can do. Federal law is supreme over conflicting state law."

The Supreme Court's ruling in the 2005 case Gonzales vs. Raich demonstrated this. In this case, the Supreme Court determined that Congress can criminalize the growth and use of homegrown marijuana. Even if the state has approved it for medical purposes.

Such a crackdown would have big economic consequences. Many states have already put regulations on marijuana in place. As a result, they are depending on hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to pay for government programs.

Richard Miadich, an attorney involved in writing Proposition 64, believes marijuana policy is too far developed for the federal government to stop. This legislation, which California voters approved in 2016, didn't only legalize recreational marijuana. It set up a strict regulatory structure. On top of that, public opinion on this issue favors states' rights. It would be "impractical for the federal government to reverse course now," according to Miadich.

A federal crackdown on recreational marijuana

Another possibility is for the federal government to focus on stopping recreational use. This would infringe upon states rights--seven states have already legalized recreational use. But licensing medical marijuana production and sales could go on.

Hezekia Allen, head of the California Growers Association, conceded that this would at least allow many businesses in the marijuana industry to continue their work. "A vast majority of California growers and cannabis business owners would choose to participate only in the medical marketplace," he said. But some growers and businesses may not be able to distinguish themselves from recreational use business. According to Allen, these may "opt to avoid licensure completely."

Bud & Bloom, a dispensary in Santa Ana, CA, is one of many businesses in the marijuana industry that a federal crackdown could affect.
Bud & Bloom, a dispensary in Santa Ana, CA, is one of many businesses in the marijuana industry that a federal crackdown could affect.

"People don't respond well to having freedom taken away." -Troy Dayton, CEO Arcview

For now, the future of marijuana-recreational and otherwise-is unknown. But entrepreneurs won't back down easily. Troy Dayton, CEO of cannabis market research company Arcview, commented, "People don't respond well to having freedom taken away."

Alex Traverso of the California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation sees nothing changing in the short term.

"Until we see any sort of formal plan from the federal government, it's full speed ahead for us," he said.

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Woman holding a nug of marijuana over a jar.
Image of a woman passing a marijuana (cannabis) joint to a friend.

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