The Trump administration announced that it will enforce federal laws barring the use of marijuana, reversing an Obama administration policy that gave wide latitude to states to determine their own pot laws. Eight states – Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Maine – and Washington, D.C. have legalized both medicinal and recreational marijuana. The Obama administration had opted not to enforce federal prohibitions in states that had passed legislation legalizing the drug. It’s classified as a Schedule 1 drug — putting it in the same category as heroin — and the government can restrict cross-state shipment and financing as a result.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the Trump administration would prioritize enforcement in states that have passed laws allowing for the recreational—rather than medical—use of the drug. Just a day after the announcement, publicly traded shares of marijuana-related companies were tumbling and executives at recreational marijuana businesses were expressing their disappointment in the announcement.
The announcement was not a surprise to legalization advocates after Trump’s nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Many advocates feel that Mr. Sessions has been “the single biggest opponent to legalization in the US Senate.”
In August 2013, a four-page directive issued by then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole essentially instructs that a hands-off approach be taken by the federal government in states that have voted on laws to legalize marijuana, regardless of the fact that marijuana is illegal at the federal level. The directive has been dubbed the “Cole Memo”.
President Trump has issued differing stances on marijuana legalization. In the 1990s, Trump told the Miami Herald that the US needed to “legalize drugs to win” the war on drugs. And in an interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly a year ago, Trump said he was in favor of medical marijuana “a hundred percent” while also calling Colorado’s recreational marijuana industry “a real problem.”
The industry is still new and is estimated to be worth over $6 billion so the reversal will cost some states millions in revenue and a loss of jobs. Recreational marijuana retailers in Oregon sell about $7 million worth of cannabis every week, or about $364 million a year.
In 2016, the marijuana industry in Colorado created more than 18,000 new full-time jobs and over $1 billion in retail sales. The industry also generated over $1 billion in additional economic activity such as growers renting warehouse space and the purchases of sophisticating lighting and irrigation equipment. Marijuana retailers also boost the economy when they rely on other companies, like contractors, lawyers and bookkeeping services, to conduct their own businesses. If the Trump Administration’s promise of a crackdown does take effect- all of this new found revenue will be lost.