Marijuana comments from White House press secretary leave local officials, businesses anxious
March 1, 2017
Garden City is home to four marijuana stores.
LivWell — 2647 8th Ave.
Nature’s Herbs and Wellness — 540 27th St.
Smokey’s 420 House — 2515 7th Ave.
XG Platinum — 2506 6th Ave.
What, exactly, did White House press secretary Sean Spicer mean by "greater enforcement?"
Local officials, store owners and Colorado marijuana advocates would love to know.
Spicer was asked Feb. 23 whether the federal government was going to take action around recreational marijuana.
"I think that's a question for the Department of Justice," Spicer said. "I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement of it."
But the nature of that enforcement, including whether the Trump administration would differ from the Obama administration's hands-off approach to legalized pot or whether Trump would stick to campaign promises leaving the decision to the states, is as of yet unknown.
John Rotherham, owner of Nature's Herbs and Wellness, 522 27th St. in Garden City, took action soon after hearing Spicer's statement.
"I contacted my attorney within the first hour," Rotherham said. "The first question would be to the state of Colorado. We've contacted them, and they have no answer."
Officials with the Department of Revenue Marijuana Enforcement Division could not immediately be reached for comment.
Nature's Herbs and Wellness is one of four marijuana stores in Garden City, and they combine to make up half of the city's budget.
The hint that the newfound revenue stream might dry out has Garden City officials paying close attention.
"Of course we're concerned about it," Town Administrator Cheryl Campbell said. "And we're watching it every day."
Campbell said she has heard "greater enforcement" could mean a letter to business owners telling them they're breaking the law.
"But the owners already know the federal government's view on that," Campbell said.
The hint of some change in the federal approach to marijuana is the latest hurdle for an industry steeped in regulations. Rotherham said those regulations are always changing. Still, he welcomes them: He said the regulatory process legitimizes his business.
Other Garden City shops didn't return calls seeking comment.
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., who was a leader in opposing legalized pot when it was on the ballot in Colorado, through a spokesman declined to comment, citing a lack of clarity in the new administration's direction on marijuana.
Colorado is one of eight states, along with the District of Columbia, that allows recreational marijuana, and the state has earned millions in tax revenue from the sale of pot.
Last year, Coloradans bought $1.3 billion worth of marijuana, according to the Denver Post. All told, Colorado collected nearly $200 million in marijuana tax revenue last year.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Sunday pushed back against the notion that the federal government would intervene, citing the inclusion of legalized marijuana in the Colorado constitution.
"If the Justice Department does aggressively begin to prosecute and try to enforce federal law in states like Colorado, where it's in our constitution, I think that is a step backwards," Hickenlooper said on Meet the Press.
Kristi Kelly, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, went further in a statement last week.
"The Colorado cannabis programs are heavily regulated, heavily taxed, and heavily enforced by state and local governments," Kelly said in a statement "Resources are better spent pursuing illegal cartels than state- and locally-licensed, tax-paying business operators."
With the message from advocates and other officials clear, what remains to be seen is a clearer signal from the Trump administration.
"Everybody's in a waiting pattern at this moment," Campbell said.
Tyler Silvy covers city and county government for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.