Talk Business & Politics’ Roby Brock participated via Skype in the White House press briefing on Thursday (Feb. 23) asking for clarification on the Trump administration’s approach to regulating marijuana in the 29 states where voters have approved measures. (Video of the White House Q&A is at the end of this article.)
Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have some form of legal marijuana regulations. Legislators in Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota are working on rules after voters in those states approved the use of medical marijuana.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded by saying President Donald Trump “understands the pain and suffering that many people go through … and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana can bring to them.”
But Spicer followed that by noting “there is a big difference between that and recreational marijuana.”
“I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states across 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 it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature,” Spicer said.
Trump has been supportive of medical marijuana in previous interviews, but has not taken a position on how he would direct the Department of Justice, under the guidance of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to apply federal law that is in conflict with the state laws. The Obama administration did not strictly enforce federal marijuana laws in states that approved medical or recreational marijuana use.
In a follow up question from another reporter, Spicer said the Department of Justice will decide how it enforces the law with respect to states allowing recreational marijuana use.
Arkansas voters approved the state’s medical marijuana amendment in November 2016 by a 53-47% margin. State lawmakers are drafting and passing legislation to implement the constitutional amendment. Some legislators have discussed delaying implementation until the feds draft a new policy or change the law. A Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College survey conducted earlier this month found that 51.5% of voters prefer the state to not wait for federal action before implementing the voter-approved measure.
A Pew Research survey in October 2016 showed an increase in the number of Americans who favor legalizing marijuana. The survey showed that 57% of U.S. adults say marijuana should be legal, with 37% saying it should be illegal. It’s a clear shift from 10 years ago when just 32% approved legalization and 60% opposed it. Legalization does have a political divide. The Pew survey found that Democrats favor legalizing marijuana (66% vs. 30%), and 55% of Republicans oppose marijuana legalization and 41% favor it.
Talk Business & Politics is the first Arkansas media outlet to participate in the White House briefing under a new effort to include more media groups outside of Washington, D.C. The White House announced the new Skype initiative earlier this month.