As the formerly fading US private prison industry licks its chops at all the business Attorney General Jeff Sessions is keen to drum up for them, Press Secretary Sean Spicer has announced that the Trump administration has found yet another way to keep US prisons full: cracking down on legal recreational cannabis.

While speaking about Trump’s recent decision to rescind the previous administration’s guidance on transgender students using the toilets of their choice, he explained the move by saying that the Republicans were ‘a states’ rights party’, and elaborated:

“If a state wants to pass a law or rule, or an organization wants to do something in compliance with the state rule, that’s their right. But it shouldn’t be the federal government getting in the way of this.”

Then, he confusingly announced that Americans should expect ‘greater enforcement’ of federal law on recreational cannabis in states where it has been made legal, saying that the Department of Justice would administer ‘the laws on the books with respect to recreational marijuana’. 

He also seemed to link recreational cannabis use to opioid addiction, saying that there was ‘a big difference’ between medical and recreational cannabis, and that ‘when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people.’

After the press conference, Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of Drug Policy Alliance responded, explaining:

“Spicer has it exactly backwards. Greater access to marijuana has actually led to declines in opioid use, overdoses and other problems.”

The Cannabist spoke to Brookings Institution drug policy expert John Hudak, who said that is was ‘not a death knell for recreational marijuana, nor is it clarification’ and expressed worry at Spicer’s ‘clear lack of understanding of federal law’ as the White House spokesman implied during the press conference that medical cannabis had a different legal standing than recreational cannabis. Under US Federal law, cannabis is classed as a Schedule I drug, the same classification given to drugs such as Heroin, LSD, Mescaline, MDMA, and GHB.

The appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General had previously created anxiety among drug policy reformers, as he has repeatedly voiced his strong opposition to legislation legalising cannabis use. The use of recreational cannabis has been legalised in the states of Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. The District of Columbia has also legalised recreational cannabis.

One other notable quote from the Press Secretary:

“Okay, you don’t get to just yell out questions. We’re going to raise our hands like big boys and girls.”

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