White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer didn’t say much about marijuana to get the recreational weed industry on edge.
But he didn’t need to.
The industry has been on alert since a Republican won the White House and Jeff Sessions – who notoriously joked that he thought the KKK was “OK until I found out they smoked pot” – was confirmed at the U.S. Attorney General.
In Washington, where recreational marijuana has been legal to sell under state regulations since a 2012 ballot initiative, there’s a maturing industry eager to get serious.
Though it’s still a young industry, recreational marijuana is growing rapidly and bringing in a sizable chunk of revenue. According to data from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, in the 2016 fiscal year nearly 230,000 pounds of marijuana flower were harvested and more than 110,000 pounds of “usable marijuana” was sold in the state. The excise tax alone (so not including the sales tax or property taxes) brought in nearly $65 million in revenue to Washington in the 2015 fiscal year.
Vicki Christophersen, executive director of the Washington CannaBusiness Association, spoke at the annual City Action Days in Olympia Feb. 15. Though she offered a nod or two to the industry’s newness, she emphasized refining regulation.
Christophersen insisted the industry wanted to work with communities and earn their respect. Though many retailers and growers may advocate against municipal moratoriums against recreational marijuana shops, Christophersen said she and her organization supported municipal choice.
When it came down to the federal question, regarding whether weed businesses will once again be subject to federal crackdowns, she expressed confidence.
But, on Thursday, Spicer was asked about how the government will approach marijuana in states where it’s been legalized. He first suggested support for allowing a regulated medical marijuana industry to exist without federal interference. But then he made allusions to stricter approaches to handling recreational marijuana.
“There’s a big difference between that, and recreational marijuana,” Spicer said. “I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law that we need to abide by.”
When asked for more details on the federal government’s stance, he redirected the question to the Department of Justice. But, he added one short sentence that left many legal marijuana supporters concerned.
“I do believe you will see greater enforcement of it,” he said.
Recreational marijuana advocates reacted quickly. Christophersen’s organization issued a press release. WACA spokesperson Aaron Pickus sent out this statement responding to Spicer’s comments:
“Washington state voters overwhelmingly approved legalizing a safe, quality-controlled and fully regulated cannabis marketplace. Our members accept and are committed to rigorous enforcement and compliance with state law which goes hand-in-hand with safe communities and a successful marketplace. We recognize that not everyone is convinced that cannabis should be legal. We look forward to continuing our state’s leadership as an example of how licensed, regulated cannabis businesses are responsible members of Washington’s business community that bring value to state and local economies.”
Of course, it’s still not clear what type of enforcement Spicer was referring to and what this could mean for retailers, growers and users. Spicer didn’t offer a timeline for when the public could expect to hear more policy information about the issue. The Trump White House champions “states’ rights” but it’s not clear how that will fit into their policy approach when it comes to weed.