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Hint of federal crackdown on recreational marijuana rattles Colorado industry

DENVER -- White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday the country can expect the federal government to step up enforcement of marijuana laws. The announcement created shock waves throughout the billion-dollar industry in Colorado.

Candidate Donald Trump ran on a platform that each state should handle its own marijuana policies.

Hundreds of shops across the state sell dozens of products. Last year, there were more than $1 billion in recreational sales in Colorado. But what will happen to the industry if the feds move in?

“It remains unclear to me whether or not this is a signal of a policy shift coming out of the White House,” marijuana consultant Andrew Freedman said.

Freedman is the former director of marijuana coordination for Gov. John Hickenlooper and an expert on pot policy.

He said the federal government does have the authority to shut down marijuana facilities in Colorado, but it would not be an easy process.

“It would be a very expensive endeavor, if that’s the way they would go,” Freedman said.

Spicer linked marijuana to a nationwide opioid crisis on Thursday. Conservatives agree.

“Kids are suffering,” said former Colorado Speaker of the House Frank McNulty. “We’ve seen hospital admissions increase.”

But pot proponents said there’s no evidence suggesting marijuana is a threat to public health. They also said stepping up federal enforcement will hurt the economy.

Industry leaders warn that a crackdown on pot will come at a price. Colorado collected roughly $140 million last year from pot sales -- money going to youth prevention programs and new schools.

“For the federal government to exercise its authority, I do think is long past due,” McNulty said.

Those on all sides of the issue said they will keep a close eye on the next steps.

“If [the feds] did come down and shut down all of our legitimate actors, it would be the black market that would come in,” Freedman said.

Hickenlooper along with other governors will be in Washington on Sunday and Monday to meet with President Trump. It remains to be seen if marijuana will be a topic of conversation.

“It would be premature to speculate on what the administration may or may not do," said Hickenlooper marijuana adviser Mark Bolton in a statement. "We have worked with the Department of Justice since legalization to develop a framework that respects voters and promotes public safety."