Marijuana Industry Angered by White House Reversal

Renewed federal enforcement will kill jobs and damage a $6 billion business in states where recreational use is legal, proponents say.

The cannabis industry was rattled after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he expects the Department of Justice to increase enforcement of federal laws prohibiting recreational pot, even in states where it’s already legal.

Along with the District of Columbia, eight states have legalized recreational use among adults, including California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada just this past November. That means one in five American adults can smoke, vape, drink, or eat cannabis as they please under state law. Meanwhile, more than half of the nation’s states have legalized medical marijuana despite federal laws prohibiting its sale. The industry is estimated to be worth north of $6 billion and will hit $50 billion by 2026, according to Cowen & Co. 

“Today’s news coming out of the administration regarding the adult use of cannabis is, of course, disappointing,” Derek Peterson, chief executive officer of marijuana cultivator Terra Tech Corp., said yesterday in a statement. “We have hoped and still hope that the federal government will respect states’ rights in the same manner they have on several other issues.”

Spicer sought to distinguish the prospect of federal enforcement for medical, vs. recreational, cannabis use, saying, “there’s still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.” 

Spicer’s statements reanimated industry concern that first arose when Republican President Donald Trump’s short list of potential attorney general nominees emerged. The final pick, former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a Republican, has long opposed cannabis use but is a major proponent of states’ rights. In his mid-January confirmation hearing, Sessions said he wouldn’t “commit to never enforcing federal law” but added that “absolutely it’s a problem of resources for the federal government.” He said that if Congress felt marijuana possession should no longer be illegal, it “should pass a law.” Trump has similarly gone back and forth on the issue of legalization.

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