OLYMPIA, Wash. - The Trump administration hinted Thursday that it might forego precedent for enforcing recreational marijuana laws.
Washington State, one of the earliest to legalize recreational marijuana use, dropping hints of its own, at potential push back to stricter enforcement.
When asked in a briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer compared recreational marijuana use to to opioid epidemic saying, “The last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law that we need to abide by in terms of the medical... when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”
Marijuana laws in states like Washington were able to operate without significant interference from the federal government during the Obama administration.
Attorney's General under the 44th President did not strictly enforce federal marijuana laws in states that had decriminalized the drug, provided that those states adhered to the Cole Memorandum.
Passed in 2013, the memo allowed states like Washington to move forward with their laws, with the expectation that state governments would implement “strong and effective” regulations prohibiting certain marijuana related
behaviors, such as driving under the influence or distributing the drug to minors...
The government effectively recognized state marijuana laws as so-called " laboratories of democracy,” allowing them to experiment with legalization so long as public safety remained a priority.
But, that attitude could be shifting.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken strong positions against legalized marijuana in the past. During his confirmation hearing in January he did not comment specifically, but said he felt it is "a problem of resources for the federal government."
During Thursday's press briefing, Spicer deferred to the Department of Justice, but hinted at a potential crackdown.
Enter the State of Washington.
Governor Jay Inslee and State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who have already challenged the Trump administration on it's executive order regarding immigration, are now possibly preparing to push back on stricter enforcement of federal marijuana laws.
The two penned a letter to the Attorney General, requesting a meeting on the issue and pointing to the success of Washington's marijuana laws.
The letter reads, in part:
“Given the limited resources available for marijuana law enforcement, a return to "full" prohibition is highly unlikely to end the illicit production, trafficking and consumption of marijuana. It is far more likely that commerce in marijuana will simply move back underground, returning bumper profits to criminal groups while once again depleting government resources. "
(The full text of that letter may be found here.)