Senators call for cannabis clarity

Whether or not a fear of federal marijuana crackdown is justified or overblown, Congress isn’t happy with the White House.

Only days after remarking that “we don’t need to be legalizing marijuana,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions has evidently assured Congressional Republicans including legalization supporter Sen. Rand Paul that the Department of Justice will support states rights, according to Politico.

Still, on March 2, a group of U.S. senators including Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski wrote a letter to Sessions asking for assurance that the federal government will not take any actions against those states that have legalized adult use cannabis.

The senators come from both sides of the political aisle, both from states that have legalized adult use marijuana and some that have not, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)

"It is essential that states that have implemented any type of practical, effective marijuana policy receive immediate assurance from the DOJ that it will respect the ability of states to enforce thoughtful, sensible drug policies in ways that do not threaten the public's health and safety," the senators wrote. "This ensures that state infrastructure, including tax revenue, small businesses, and jobs, can be protected; DOJ resources can be used most effectively; and most importantly, that marijuana can be properly regulated to improve public health and safety."

The senators point to the Cole Memorandum, a guidance letter which among other things told the Department of Justice to not prioritize marijuana enforcement where complies with state law.

“We respectfully request that you uphold the DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational marijuana use and ask that the Cole Memorandum remain in place,” the letter reads. “It is critical that states can continue to implement these laws under the framework of the Cole Memorandum. In addition, we request that state and local elected officials, and public health and safety officials, be afforded an opportunity to comment on any shift in policy from that expressed in the Cole Memorandum, to avoid disruption of existing regulation and enforcement efforts.”

The letter comes during a bombastic time in the cannabis conversation.

Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer caused a panic attack in states where recreational marijuana is legal when he suggested last week that states would see “greater enforcement” of federal marijuana laws.

Spicer said that even though Trump has been on record supporting both medical marijuana and states rights, the eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana may have crossed a line.

“There is a big difference between that and medical marijuana,” Spicer said in reference to medical marijuana, which is currently legal in 29 states.

Attorneys general and representatives from several states including Alaska were forced to take a “wait and see” approach to Spicer’s comment. A Congressional Cannabis Caucus committee responded to Spicer’s comments as well, hoping that they didn’t indicate a shift in policy.

"The federal law is one thing and the state has the right to enact laws in this area and those are perfectly constitutional," Cory Mills, the Department of Law spokesperson, told the Associated Press. "Our law wouldn't be overturned. But there is a different federal law, and how they want to enforce the federal law is up to the federal government. We'll just wait and see what sort of actions they take."

Only days later, Sessions denied some of the claims that medical marijuana helps curb opioid abuse and claimed that cannabis trade contributed greatly to violent deaths in the U.S.

 

DJ Summers can be reached at daniel.summers@alaskajournal.com

Updated: 
03/02/2017 - 12:52pm