Alaska Authorities Vow to Fight Feds on Legal Cannabis

Published on January 4, 2018 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker speaks during a news conference in which he outlined legislation aimed at further addressing opioid abuse in the state on Monday, March 6, 2017, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said he wants to prevent federal overreach after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended an Obama-era policy Thursday that paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states like Alaska.

Walker said in a statement that he’s committed to upholding the will of Alaska voters, who legalized recreational cannabis use in 2014. He said he would work with the Justice Department and the state’s Republican congressional delegation—which has cast cannabis as a states’ rights issue—to prevent federal overreach.

Alaska's senior U.S. senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, called Sessions' announcement ‘disruptive' and ‘regrettable.'

Spokesman Jonathon Taylor said Walker and state Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth were evaluating possible options for doing that. Lindemuth said her office has a duty to uphold and implement state law.

Alaska’s senior U.S. senator, Lisa Murkowski, said she had asked Sessions to work with states and Congress if he thought changes were needed. The Republican called his announcement “disruptive” and “regrettable.”

The state, in setting up its marijuana industry, drew guidance from a memo from President Barack Obama’s administration that limited federal enforcement of the drug, as long as states prevented it from getting to places it was still outlawed and kept it from gangs and children. Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

Sessions said the previous guidance “undermines the rule of law” and said U.S. prosecutors in the states where cannabis is legal could decide which marijuana activities to prosecute.

Alaska’s Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said her office has a duty to uphold and implement state law.

It was not immediately clear how Alaska U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder would respond. His office referred questions to the Department of Justice press office.

Marijuana industry advocates said Sessions’ decision creates confusion and flies in the face of a growing legalization movement.

Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel with the Marijuana Policy Project, said prosecutors previously had discretion. But there is a new attorney general, “who I guess wants to reverse the course of history or something,” he said.

Jane Stinson, a part owner of the retail marijuana shop Enlighten Alaska in Anchorage, worries about the potential effect on her business, which had been looking to grow and is negotiating a lease for another building.

Sessions’ decision feels vindictive and unreasonable, she said.

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