Maine police are waiting for clarification of a signal from the Trump administration that it may crack down on states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana.
In a news briefing Thursday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he expects states to be subject to “greater enforcement” of federal laws against marijuana use. President Trump sees “a big difference” between the use of marijuana for medical purposes and for recreational purposes, Spicer said. He said that states’ legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes “is something the Department of Justice, I think, will be further looking into.”
As of Friday night, the Justice Department had declined to comment on Spicer’s remarks.
In November, Maine voters narrowly approved legalizing recreational marijuana. Adults 21 and older can now legally possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use, and state and local authorities are developing regulations for retail sales. It’s not clear what effect a federal policy change would have in Maine.
Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said the organization will not comment until a change of policy is announced. The chief’s association fiercely opposed legalizing recreational marijuana in Maine, because of concerns that it could expose children to the drug and increase the numbers of impaired drivers in the state.
In the wake of the vote, the association said it would work with lawmakers to make the recreational marijuana law better, and urged the Legislature to establish a blood-level limit to determine a driver’s impairment.
Gov. Paul LePage also opposed the measure and refused to sign a bill to close a legal loophole that allowed possession for minors because lawmakers failed to provide enough funds for rulemaking and disagreed with which state agency should provide oversight. LePage reversed course and signed the bill, and later issued an executive order shifting rulemaking and regulation for the program to the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations.
LePage was attending the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland on Friday. His office did not return requests for comment Thursday or Friday.
Maine is among a growing number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana in the past five years, along with Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.
But under federal law, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance and is considered to have no accepted medical use. Other Schedule I drugs include LSD and heroin. Under President Obama’s administration, the Department of Justice took a hands-off approach to enforcing federal law in states where voters approved legal recreational marijuana.
Reaction to Spicer’s comments was swift Thursday night.
“In Maine, we are working very hard to accommodate the desires of the voters to allow the recreational use of marijuana and the need to regulate its cultivation and distribution in a manner consistent with the health and safety of the public,” Attorney General Janet Mills said in a written statement. “Marijuana has not been the top priority of law enforcement in Maine since we decriminalized the possession of small amounts 40 years ago. It would be an unwise use of federal resources, in my view, to focus on marijuana prosecutions in a state like Maine.”
David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group, said the president should leave marijuana laws like Maine’s alone.
“Maine voters have already made their decision on the issue of regulating and taxing marijuana, and we hope this administration will continue to allow states to determine their own policies,” Boyer said in a written statement.
Opponents of legalization applauded Spicer’s comments.
“We welcome strong federal leadership on marijuana that is focused on policies that will protect communities and youth from the harms posed by the increasing commercialization and normalization of the drug,” said Scott M. Gagnon, chairman of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, in a written statement.
“The marijuana industry is already using the Big Tobacco playbook using multimillion-dollar political campaigns to mislead the public with fake data and fake science. We saw that right here in Maine with the Yes On 1 campaign,” Gagnon said.
The Washington Post contributed to this report.
Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: