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Would Massachusetts Fight A Federal Crackdown On Recreational Marijuana?

WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) — Will Massachusetts, where recreational marijuana is now legal, fight any federal crackdown on the industry after White House spokesman Sean Spicer said they should expect to see stepped-up enforcement of anti-pot laws?

On Thursday Spicer offered the Trump administration's strongest indication to date of a looming crackdown on recreational pot, saying "I do believe you'll see greater enforcement" of federal law. But, speaking in response to a question at a news conference, he offered no details about what such enforcement would entail.

sean spicer
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

This would go against comments from President Donald Trump himself, who was asked specifically about this topic while he was campaigning for president and pot legalization was on the ballot in Massachusetts.

"This I wouldn't interfere because I think that really is a local issue. When you look at what's happened in Colorado as an example, it's a local thing," then-candidate Trump told WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Joe Mathieu back in October 2015.  "I wouldn't interfere with it. I think that's something that really is very much up to the local area."

Trump does not oppose medical marijuana, Spicer added, but "that's very different than recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into."

A renewed focus on recreational marijuana in states that have legalized pot would present a departure from the Trump administration's statements in favor of states' rights. A day earlier, the administration announced that the issue of transgender student bathroom access was best left to states and local communities to decide.

Enforcement would also shift away from marijuana policy under the Obama administration, which said in a 2013 memo that it would not intervene in states' marijuana laws as long as they keep the drug from crossing state lines and away from children and drug cartels.

But the memo carried no force of law and could be rewritten by new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has consistently said he opposes legal marijuana but has not indicated what he might do.

Eight states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

charlie baker
Governor Charlie Baker.(Photo Credit: Alastair Pike, Office of Governor Charlie Baker)

So what will the Baker administration do in Massachusetts, having already pledged to honor the will of the people, who passed legal marijuana last November?

"The voters voted. We should pursue implementing the will of the voters," Baker told Mathieu last month. "But (the Senate president, the House Speaker and I) all agreed basically we should just go ahead until we're told not to."

"While there has been no formal policy or guidance issued on marijuana changes, the voters of Massachusetts have spoken on this issue and the administration will continue to work with lawmakers, educators, public safety and public health professionals to move forward with the new law." Baker's communications director Lizzy Guyton said in a statement Friday.

The Justice Department has several options available should it decide to enforce the law, including filing lawsuits on the grounds that state laws regulating pot are unconstitutional because they are pre-empted by federal law. Enforcement could also be as simple as directing U.S. attorneys to send letters to recreational marijuana businesses letting them know they are breaking the law.

Spicer's comments came the same day a Quinnipiac poll said 59 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal and 71 percent would oppose a federal crackdown.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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