Federal cannabis crackdown could clash with California's recreational marijuana laws

The Trump administration signaled that  it intends to "step up" federal enforcement of marijuana laws. That could set up a cannabis clash with states such as California that have passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana use.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday that the Trump administration aims to crack down on recreational use of marijuana, noting that President Trump understands marijuana's medical benefits.

"There's a big difference between that and recreational marijuana 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," said Spicer, "There's still a federal law that we need to abide by."

At Oakland's Harborside Health Center, the medical marijuana dispensary's co-founder Steve DeAngelo says there is no conclusive data showing that marijuana acts as a gateway drug that leads to opioid use.

DeAngelo became nationally known when the U.S. Department of Justice clashed with him in court over the issue of whether Harborside and other dispensaries should be in compliance with state laws allowing cannabis consumption or federal laws banning cannabis.

"We have indeed had the federal government try to both tax us out of existence and seize our property and we've survived both of those actions thus far," DeAngelo said.

Nationwide, a growing number of people are supporting marijuana legalization.

In November, Californians approved Prop 64, making California one of eight states plus the District of Columbia where marijuana is legal for recreational use.

California businesses will be able to sell to recreational users starting January 2018, creating another direct conflict with federal law.

"The day that we are allowed to serve adults, we will serve adults and if the federal government wants to take action against us, we've taken all the preparations we possibly can and we're ready to face the music," DeAngelo said.

Another 17 states are reportedly considering measures to legalize recreational marijuana use. That could expand the battleground if the Trump administration pursues a crackdown. It also creates a challenge for the White House, which has cited the importance of state’s rights on other issues such as transgender bathrooms.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has gone on record in the past against marijuana, but the Department of Justice declined to comment following Spicer's news conference.