States that legalized recreational marijuana are preparing for a potential standoff with the Department of Justice following signals from the White House that the federal government may crack down on the cannabis industry. Recreational marijuana is legal is eight states and Washington D.C., while medical marijuana is legal in 28 states.
On Feb. 23, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the DOJ was likely to pursue prosecution against recreational marijuana sellers, even in states where they industry has been legalized.
"I do believe you'll see greater enforcement of it," Spicer said federal laws against recreational marijuana. He added that medical marijuana is "very different than recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a fierce critic of marijuana. In April 2016, Sessions had blasted legalization of cannabis during a Senate hearing, when he served in Congress.
"Good people don't smoke marijuana," Sessions said, according to Business Insider. He added "We need grown ups in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger."
The federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, but recreational use has been legalized in eight states, with the growing industries providing millions in tax revenue. Washington state has estimated $272 million in tax revenue from its marijuana industry in the fiscal year of 2017 alone, The Huffington Post reports.
On Feb. 15, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington penned a letter to Sessions warning him against targeting their recreational marijuana industry, asserting that it result in cannabis profits going to criminal groups instead of the state.
On Feb. 24, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper warned that, because 60 percent of the U.S. had already legalized either recreational or medical marijuana, a federal crackdown could ignite a firestorm.
"It think it's the wrong time to pull back from this experiment, and if the federal government's going to come and begin closing in and arresting people that we doing what's legal in different states, my God, it creates a level of conflict that's going to be very difficult," Hickenlooper told MSNBC.
That same day, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California penned a letter directly to President Donald Trump urging his DOJ not to target his state's fledgling marijuana industry.
Newsom wrote that the DOJ "must not strip the legal and publicly-supported industry of its business, and hand it back to drug cartels and criminals."
Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California has introduced legislation that would provide marijuana sellers who operate within state laws an immunity from federal prosecution. If signed into law, the bill would prevent the DOJ from cracking down on recreational marijuana industries that comply with local laws.
Communications director Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project has asserted that a DOJ crackdown on cannabis industries would be an infringement on states' rights.
"This administration is claiming that it values states' rights, so we hope they will respect the rights of states to determine their own marijuana policies," Tvert told AP. "It is hard to imagine why anyone would want marijuana to be produced and sold by cartels and criminals rather than tightly regulated, tax paying businesses."