AURORA | In a press conference last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the federal government would crackdown on legalized marijuana.
This week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was critical of legalized marijuana.
The comments have some in Colorado’s booming legal pot industry worried about what a Donald Trump presidency will mean for their business, though they say public opinion about marijuana is increasingly on their side.
Alex Levine, director of operations for Green Dragon Cannabis Co., said any federal crackdown that could drive the billion-dollar industry back into the black market would be “deplorable.”
But, he said the company, which has a recently-opened location in Aurora, is cautiously optimistic about the industry’s future.
“I think it would be very difficult for the Trump administration to roll back the progress that has been made nationwide, not to mention that public perception of marijuana reform has become substantially more positive in the last eight years,” he said.
Locally, the city of Aurora has collected $9.4 million in marijuana tax revenue since the city’s first shops opened in 2014, money that has been used to fund programs for the homeless.
The city just announced this week that the 24th license for a marijuana shop has been granted to The Green Solution for a store at 19370 E. Quincy Ave. It was the fifth license granted to the company, which has four existing storefronts in Aurora already.
Kristi Kelly, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, released a statement last week saying the federal government should leave Colroado’s legal pot shops alone.
“The Colorado cannabis programs are heavily regulated, heavily taxed, and heavily enforced by state and local governments. Resources are better spent pursuing illegal cartels than state- and locally-licensed, tax-paying business operators. We believe in upholding the tenets of the Cole Memorandum,” she said.
The industry is responsible for $3 billion in economic impact and about 20,000 jobs, she said.
In a meeting with reporters, Sessions said the department was reviewing an Obama administration Justice Department memo that gave states flexibility in passing marijuana laws.
“Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think,” Sessions said.
But Kelly said a crackdown on legal pot would create more crime, not less.
“Removing a legal option creates a chasm in the marketplace that will drive customers back into illegal markets, putting money into the pockets of cartels,” she said.
Still, Sessions remains critical of pot.
“I am definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” he said. “But states, they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say, it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”
Studies have found no correlation between legalization of marijuana and violent crime rates. But law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado say drug traffickers have taken advantage of lax marijuana laws to hide in plain sight, illegally growing and shipping the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much higher.
Pot advocates say the officials have exaggerated the problem.
Eight states and the District of Columbia 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.
Colorado’s Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said she would like Sessions to witness that state’s flourishing recreational pot industry before imposing a crackdown.
“I’d like to be able to share what we have learned and where we have put in place a good framework for marijuana regulations,” she said. “Now for the federal government to say we’re doing things wrong, or we’re going to come in and take this regulation away from you without having first looked to see what we’re doing is precipitous.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.