White House: Expect Tougher Marijuana Enforcement

It seemed after years of incessant and arbitrary crackdowns by federal agents on marijuana operations in legal purgatory by way of incongruous state and federal laws, there was finally a reprieve with the “Cole memo.” marijuana

In 2013, the Obama administration issued a new policy, by way of Deputy Attorney General James Cole’s memo, that essentially promised to back off businesses that were abiding well-regulated state marijuana system laws. With that, the marijuana industry saw a boom, with the anticipation of topping $25 billion by 2020. A total of 28 states – including now Florida – have some form of legalized medicinal marijuana, while eight states allow it for recreational use.

But now, it seems, the Trump administration may throw a wrench in that cog. Marijuana still remains illegal under federal law, and absent action from Congress, that’s unlikely to change. It seemed initially after Trump’s unexpected win he would maintain the status quo, at least with regard to federal marijuana policy. But status quo has never really been his thing. 

The first inkling that there may be a problem was the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to the position of U.S. Attorney General. Sessions is a longtime opponent of marijuana legalization laws, even going so far as to say that those who smoke may not be of good moral character – and that was recently.

Public opinion of legalized marijuana is generally favorable, though Republicans tend to oppose legalization for recreational use more commonly than Democrats or Independents.

Still, concerns were eased when Sessions met with leaders in various states where marijuana is legal, and seemed to hint, at least privately, that he would leave marijuana policy as is, focusing more efforts on keeping the drug out of the hands of cartels and children.

But then in a recent press conference, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he anticipates there would be greater enforcement of marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug for recreational purposes.

Spicer refused to elaborate further, saying any additional questions on that matter should be deferred directly to the U.S. Department of Justice, which Spicer said would “eventually have more to say.” He added there is a “big difference” between medical and recreational use of the drug, and he said the Justice Department would be exploring that further.

Obama’s stance on recreational marijuana in states where it was legal was that the federal government had, “bigger fish to fry.”

As our criminal defense attorneys in Miami are aware, the majority of drug enforcement operations are carried out by state and local authorities. Federal agents rarely weigh in unless there is a transfer of drug across state lines or evidence of drug trade used in furtherance of a criminal enterprise.

Here in Florida, given that the state has only approved medicinal marijuana, we may not have to worry a great deal about a spike in federal involvement in local cases outside the current parameters. However, this heightened enforcement should be on the radar of anyone connected to the marijuana industry, whether as a supplier, a physician or patient.

Contact the Miami criminal defense lawyers at Jacobs Keeley at (305) 358-7991 for a free consultation on your pending criminal matter.

Additional Resources:

White House: Feds will step up marijuana law enforcement, Feb. 24, 2017, By Kevin Liptak, CNN

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