TRENTON -- States that allow the sale of recreational marijuana should expect "a greater enforcement" of the federal law against pot, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday, offering the the Trump administration's first comments on the contentious issue.
New Jersey operates a medical marijuana program serving nearly 11,000 people. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) says he intends to introduce a bill soon that would create a legal recreational market for adults 21 and older.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has said he would push to pass the law in 2018, after marijuana-foe Gov. Chris Christie finishes his term.
Spicer's comments suggest President Trump will let medical marijuana programs continue, because he believes they aid patients' suffering.
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"There's a big difference between (medical marijuana) and recreational marijuana," Spicer said during Thursday's daily press briefing.
"And I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people. There's still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature."
"I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement of it," Spicer said, referring to the federal law that says marijuana is an illegal and dangerous drug.
Spicer's comments come after voters in 2016 approved the United States' first recreational marijuana sales east of the Mississippi River, in Maine and Massachusetts.
Pro-marijuana organizations responded quickly to remind Spicer his boss expressed no interest in going after states where voters had legalized recreational marijuana. They also shot down the connection between marijuana leading to more opioid drugs.
In 2014, a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found a 25 percent decrease in prescription drug overdoses in states with medical marijuana laws that allowed patients with chronic pain to participate in the program.
"It was especially disappointing to hear Press Secretary Spicer refer to the opioid crisis in relation to marijuana," National Cannabis Industry Association Executive Director Aaron Smith said in a statement. "Science has discredited the idea that marijuana serves as any kind of gateway drug, and the addiction and death rates associated with opioids simply do not occur in any way with cannabis."
During the campaign, Trump said he would not interfere with state laws that have allowed recreational marijuana, Smith added.
Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project pointed to a national poll released earlier in the day that said 71 percent of voters want the federal government to steer clear of state recreational marijuana programs.
"This administration is claiming that it values states' rights, so we hope they will respect the rights of states to determine their own marijuana policies," Tvert said.
Susan K. Livio may be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.
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