Marijuana entrepreneurs try to stay calm after Spicer comments on weed

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

On Election Day, marijuana advocates and entrepreneurs were dealt two conflicting realities.

On one hand, the industry appeared poised to continue its explosive growth, with eight additional states voting to legalize the drug for either recreational or medicinal use. The other lingering reality is that the presidency of Donald Trump could tighten the way the industry is regulated at a federal level. Marijuana is still a federally illegal substance.

There is a big difference between the medical use … that's very different from the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into.
Sean Spicer
White House press secretary

Just over a month into Trump's presidency, the industry continues to watch and wait for guidance. On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked if the government would take action on recreational marijuana use.

"Well," Spicer said, "I think that is a question for the Department of Justice. I do believe you'll see greater enforcement of it. Because again there is a big difference between the medical use … that's very different from the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into."

The press secretary's separation of medicinal and recreational use was taken by many as a signal that the administration may very well take action on the recreational market. Medical marijuana is currently legal in 28 states and Washington, D.C., while recreational marijuana is legal in eight states and D.C.

'We hope they value states' rights'

However, analysts are cautiously optimistic that the marijuana industry will continue to expand, with projections from industry group GreenWave Advisors pointing to a $6.5 billion market in 2016, despite Spicer's comments.

"Nothing the press secretary said indicates a specific plan or position the administration is taking," said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group. "We still know the same amount regarding their position as we did before. The administration has said they value states' rights — we certainly hope they value states' rights when it comes to marijuana policy."

The Department of Justice declined to comment for this report, and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump's appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General did little to ease concerns about a potential crackdown on the drug, with the former Alabama senator having been a vocal critic of marijuana usage in the past. At his Senate confirmation hearing in January, Sessions did not appear to take a harsher approach to enforcing federal law on marijuana policy.

Warren's marijuana biz push
Warren's marijuana biz push

"I think the states will still have the right to enforce their own laws," said Matt Karnes, founder of GreenWave Advisors. "I think they will still let the states decide, but have more enforcement around it, or deploy more resources for the federal government to go after those committing any type of marijuana infractions."

Karnes added that he expects job growth to also continue in the industry, which currently employs some 150,000 people.

Entrepreneurs like Ian Eisenberg are undeterred by Spicer's comments. Eisenberg is the owner of Uncle Ike's Pot Shop, which has three locations selling adult-use marijuana. The Seattle-based company is gearing up to move into the medicinal market.

"I always have concerns, but I did not take Spicer's comments to be as ominous as everyone else did ... it seemed to be an off-the-cuff comment," Eisenberg said.

"This is always serious, but it isn't as if the sky is falling. We are such a well-regulated, seed-to-sale adult use market in Washington," he said. "I don't see the feds targeting Washington State. Spicer is not the DOJ — if the DOJ were making those comments, I would be more concerned."