During a press conference last Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer hinted at the Trump administration’s harsh stance on recreational marijuana legislation. It would be a tragedy for the federal government to begin enforcing federal anti-marijuana laws on states that have recently legalized the recreational use.
While Spicer said that they would respect state laws on medical marijuana, the outlook for recreational use is bleak. He stated that with “the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people.”
Contrary to what Spicer would have us believe, there is no linkage to increased opioid use and legalized marijuana. Actually the opposite is true, according to report in the journal Health Affairs, “when states legalized medical marijuana, prescriptions dropped significantly for painkillers.”
With recreational marijuana legal in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska and Washington D.C., and California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada all having voted to legalize it in 2016, it is clear that the industry is growing rapidly. In Eugene alone, there are over 20 marijuana dispensaries, not to mention countless recreational growing and processing operations.
Recreational marijuana is a booming industry that generates increasingly important revenue for the state and federal government. In the first three months of legalization in Oregon, it generated over $10.5 million for the state, according to an Oregon Department of Revenue report.
As I stated above, the Health Affairs journal reported that the legalization of cannabis makes the plant accessible as a medicine to those who might otherwise turn to more dangerous prescription drugs for pain relief. This is an important statistic for a state like Oregon, that has historically struggled with high drug abuse rates.
Job creation has been the primary topic of Trump’s campaign over the last year, and it seems ironic that one of the fastest growing and job-creating industries in the United States has come under fire just a month into his presidency. According to a report by New Frontier Data, legal cannabis is projected to create over a quarter million jobs by 2020 — while about 150,000 people currently have jobs related to the industry. He also said during his campaign that he believes, in regards to legalization, “it’s got to be a state decision.”
The enforcement of these laws would also reinvigorate the dying black market for cannabis. According to the Washington Post, the annual amount of marijuana seized on the U.S.-Mexico border has dropped about 2 million pounds since 2009, from its peak at almost 4 million. This drop is directly linked to legalization impacting the black market for the plant.
In the end, the federal government’s stance is going to be determined by the controversial Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Sessions has been an opponent of marijuana since the 1970s, when he was taking down pot dealers as a federal prosecutor and the Alabama Attorney General. Sadly, his stance on recreational marijuana is going to create more of the very same black market distributors he spent so much of his career fighting.
According to a survey from Quinnipiac University, 71 percent of voters oppose the enforcement of laws against marijuana in states that have voted to legalize recreational use. This is probably because, as I said above, the legal status of recreational marijuana is creating jobs, revenue and tourism throughout Oregon, as well as other states in which the recreational use of the plant is legal.
We know that the Trump administration has no qualms with acting contrary to public opinion, and I’m not optimistic about them changing their style of governance now. People voted for him because of his experience as a business man, yet this stance on the marijuana industry seems to show a complete lack of business savvy. As I noted above, this is a complete change in the rhetoric that he was using during his campaign.
With the federal budget already in shambles, it would be completely irresponsible for our government to spend money on dismantling such a lucrative industry. I believe that cannabis, and hemp could become a cornerstone of the American economy if the market is allowed to blossom without federal interference.