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Colorado medical marijuana patients on edge over potential Trump crackdown

May 17, 2017 Updated: May 18, 2017 at 6:13 am
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Colorado medical marijuana patients are on edge over a statement made by the Trump administration signaling objections to a prohibition on interfering with state-run medical marijuana programs. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Colorado medical marijuana patients are on edge over a statement made by the Trump administration signaling objections to a prohibition on interfering with state-run medical marijuana programs.

As reported by The Washington Post, a "signing statement" that accompanied Trump's signature on a bill passed this month to keep the government open objected to a provision that prohibits his administration from interfering with medical marijuana programs.

The provision prohibits the Justice Department from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana programs.

It was a bit of a surprise, considering as a candidate, Trump spoke of support for medical marijuana. There are now 29 states that have authorized medical marijuana programs, including Colorado, which also has legalized recreational marijuana.

Colorado medical marijuana advocates are hopeful that Trump is simply flexing his muscle.

"It's showboating," said Jason Warf, who represents the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, which represents medical marijuana patients.

"It's Trump saying he will do whatever he wants, which would just be sort of stereotypical for him. On the flip side, we're trying to stay pretty vigilant, keeping an eye on things."

More concerning to cannabis advocates is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an ardent critic of legalized marijuana. But Sessions has offered only vague statements about a potential federal crackdown, and most of his statements have revolved around recreational activities.

The "signing statement" by Trump is more to raise objections, rather than offer new policy.

"Sessions obviously has a personal agenda against anything cannabis, but at the same time, I think that's a tough battle for him given the number of medical states that we have now," Warf said.

Teri Robnett, founder and executive director of the Cannabis Patients Alliance, which represents medical marijuana patients in Colorado, is more concerned.

"I have no idea what Trump is going to do," Robnett said. "He seems to love keeping everyone in chaos, and he bragged during the campaign about being unpredictable, and I think that's who he is. The lack of consistency is driving everyone crazy.

"We're always on edge, and a little bit more than we have been," Robnett continued.

What's perhaps more concerning to activists is that Sessions recently directed federal prosecutors to take a harder approach to prosecuting drug crimes. President Obama had eased some of those prosecutorial directions.

There could be changes in enforcement coming regarding marijuana, which has the industry concerned, though few have yet fully panicked.

For the Justice Department, the issue has more to do with enforcing federal law. Marijuana remains illegal on the federal level. Justice Department officials believe they have an obligation to enforce all federal laws, including those surrounding marijuana.

But Warf said a harder approach to prosecuting drug crimes would signal a reversal from stepping back from a drug war that observers largely agree has been ineffective.

"We have bigger concerns over the sentencing component," Warf said. "There's a reason that we go after drug offenders in the U.S. It has absolutely nothing to do with public safety. It's because we can use drug offenders as prison labor."

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