SALEM — Oregon lawmakers have condemned a White House statement suggesting the U.S. Justice Department will enforce the federal prohibition on recreational marijuana in states that have legalized it.
When Oregonians legalized recreational pot in 2014, they knew there was a risk of a federal crackdown with future presidential administrations, said Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick (D-Portland).
"The approach we're taking is to have effective regulations and to stamp out the black market to the extent that we can," said Burdick, who is co-chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation. "We really want to have the kind of program that will, if they do decide to enforce, put us at the bottom of their list."
The comment by White House spokesman Sean Spicer in late February marks the strongest indication so far of a potential crackdown on recreational use of the drug by the Trump Administration, the Associated Press reported. It came even as a new survey showed most Americans believe cannabis should be legal.
"I do believe you'll see greater enforcement of it," Spicer said in response to a reporter's question at a White House briefing. He suggested enforcement would target only recreational marijuana, as Congress has passed laws to protect medical use.
"I am hoping they come to their senses," Burdick said of the administration, "because you know with the recent election cycle that put Trump in office it also put marijuana in place in a number of states, including in California, which is the sixth largest economy in the world."
Spicer's comment conflicts with the administration's claim that it favors states' rights, said U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley. For instance, the administration announced a day earlier it would allow states to decide the issue of transgender restroom access.
"I urge the Trump administration to follow its own rhetoric on 'states' rights' and to respect the voters of Oregon and the many other states who have decided at the ballot to legalize recreational marijuana use," Merkley said.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said she would explore options for protecting voters' decision to legalize recreational pot and work with attorney generals in other states with similar laws.
"In my role as state AG, I plan to continue to work hard to make sure Oregon's growing marijuana industry flourishes," Rosenblum said.
She said she would prefer to focus Oregon's limited law enforcement resources on more dangerous drugs and crimes of violence.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden echoed that sentiment.
"Wasting taxpayer dollars and burdening our law-enforcement agencies to go after law-abiding recreational marijuana users distracts from going after criminals and threats to our safety," he said via text message. "I will fight hard against ridiculous federal government intrusions into our state."
Just days before Spicer's comments, a bipartisan team of U.S. representatives, including Portland Democrat Earl Blumenauer, formed the nation's first "Congressional Cannabis Caucus." The caucus formed with the intent of reconciling federal law with state laws that permit medical and recreational use of marijuana.
"I am deeply disappointed by Sean Spicer's statement that he expects states to see 'greater enforcement' and crackdown on adult use of marijuana," Blumenauer said in a prepared statement. "The national prohibition of cannabis has been a failure and millions of voters across the country have demanded a more sensible approach. I'm looking forward to working with the leadership of our newly formed cannabis caucus to ensure that Oregonian's wishes are protected and that we end the failed prohibition on marijuana."
Earlier this month, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California introduced legislation that would shield people from marijuana-related prosecutions under the federal Controlled Substances Act, provided that they complied with state laws.
Oregon voters created a medical cannabis program through Ballot Measure 67 in 1998. Voters legalized recreational use of the drug with Measure 91 in 2014.
Recreational marijuana has brought in more than $60 million in state revenue since the state started taxing sales in January 2016. The revenue is distributed to public education, Oregon State Police, cities, counties and health-related programs. Some cities and counties have assessed an additional local tax on recreational pot. Medical marijuana is exempt from taxation, under state law.