White House press secretary Sean Spicer's comment last week that we "will see greater enforcement" of federal marijuana prohibition has set off tremors in the pot industry, but it should be setting off warning bells at the White House itself.
Here are five reasons the Trump administration needs to think twice before its meddles with legal marijuana:
1. Legal marijuana is way more popular than Trump is. A Quinnipiac poll released last week is only the latest of a long series of polls in recent years showing majority support for marijuana legalization. That poll had nearly three out of five Americans -- 59% -- down with freeing the weed. And more directly to the political point, an even higher number -- 71% -- want the federal government to butt out in states where it is legal. Trump, meanwhile, is polling in the thirties or forties in personal popularity polls. And we know he wants to be liked.
2. Trump can't make legal marijuana go away; he can only mess it up. Even if Jeff Sessions lives up to marijuana industry nightmare scenarios by successfully shutting down pot businesses and preventing states from taxing and regulating it, marijuana possession and cultivation for personal use will remain legal under state law. The federal government cannot force state and local police to enforce federal marijuana prohibition and it does not have the resources to effectively do so itself. People will continue to grow and possess pot in legal states, and continue to sell it -- only now all that activity will return to the black market.
3. Legal marijuana is a job creation dynamo. The marijuana industry already employs more than 100,000 people and, if left unimpeded, would create more jobs than manufacturing by 2020, according to a recent report from New Frontier Data. That report projects that 250,000 jobs would be created in the industry by 2020, while Bureau of Labor statistics project than 800,000 manufacturing jobs are going to vanish by 2024. And new jobs are way more likely to pop up in marijuana processing operations than in coal fields.
4. Legal marijuana is a tax bonanza for the states. In Colorado, the state took in $200 million in pot tax revenues in 2016, using it for schools and public health and safety, Oregon took in $60 million, and Washington saw $35 million in the last fiscal year. In California, the Legislative Analyst's Office estimates legal weed will generate $1 billion in tax revenues per year. An awful lot of fiscal conservatives are very happy to see those revenues.
5. Legal marijuana hurts drug cartels. If the Trump administration wants to hurt Mexican drug trafficking organizations, the so-called cartels, not interfering with legal competition from this side of the border is a good way to do that. Mexican brick weed is not, of course, the sole source of cartel revenues, but it is a significant one, accounting for perhaps a fifth of cartel receipts, and legalization is hurting cartel marijuana exports. Seizures at the border have dropped by nearly two thirds in recent years, from a high of 3.5 million pounds in 2009 to only 1.5 million pounds in 2015, and there are many stories of Mexican pot farmers being driven out of business by competition from the north.