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State Pot Officials: 'Impossible To Discern' White House Action On Retail Pot

By Stan Bush

DENVER (CBS4)- State leaders say it's unclear if White House Spokesperson Sean Spicer's comments truly represent a new policy when it comes to legalized marijuana.

The Justice Department will step up enforcement of federal law against recreational marijuana, Spicer said Thursday, offering the Trump administration's strongest indication to date of a looming crackdown on the drug, even as a solid majority of Americans believe it should be legal.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer Holds Daily Press Briefing
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

"I do believe you'll see greater enforcement of it," Spicer said in response to a question during a news conference. But he offered no details about what such enforcement would entail. President Donald Trump does not oppose medical marijuana, he added, but "that's very different than recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into."

Colorado's Attorney General office released a statement saying, "Today's comments by the White House Press Secretary were so general in nature that it's impossible to discern what action the Administration actually will take on legalized recreational marijuana. Until the Department of Justice issues an official position, we won't be able to chart a legal course of action for Colorado."

CBS4's Stan Bush interviews Gov. Hickenlooper's acting marijuana advisor Mark Bolton (credit: CBS)

Gov. John Hickenlooper's acting marijuana advisor Mark Bolton echoed similar hesitation to Spicer's comments. He says the governor would prefer to work with the White House on a regulatory system that respects the law voters approved in 2012.

"I think we're hopeful that the administration will engage in the states and help build a regulatory system that protect public health and safety while respecting the will of our voters," says Bolton.

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.

marijuana legalization in colorado generic
(credit: CBS)

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

Bolton says dismantling recreational marijuana would be extremely difficult considering how prolific the industry has grown.

"It's a challenge for resources for the federal government because its spread to so many states, but again that's why we hope to collaborate with the federal government so we don't get to that point."

RELATED STORIES: Marijuana Legalization Story Archive

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

Stan Bush is a general assignment reporter at CBS4. His stories can be seen on CBS4 News at 10. Read his bio and follow him on Twitter @StanBushTV.

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