JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Governors in at least two states that have legalized recreational marijuana are pushing back against the Trump administration and defending their efforts to regulate the industry.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, a one-time Republican no longer affiliated with a party, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week asking the Department of Justice to maintain the Obama administration’s more hands-off enforcement approach to states that have legalized the drug still banned at the federal level.
“Given the diversity of public sentiment regarding marijuana throughout the country, marijuana regulation is an area where states should take the lead.”
It comes after Sessions sent responses recently to the governors of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, who asked him to allow the legalization experiments to continue in the first four states to legalize recreational marijuana. Sessions detailed concerns he had with how effective state regulatory efforts have been or will be.
Washington state also responded to Sessions this week. Gov. Jay Inslee said the attorney general made claims about the situation in Washington that are “outdated, incorrect, or based on incomplete information.”
“If we can engage in a more direct dialogue, we might avoid this sort of miscommunication and make progress on the issues that are important to both of us,” Inslee and that state’s attorney general wrote to Sessions.
Since taking office, Sessions has promised to reconsider cannabis policy, providing a level of uncertainty for states that have legalized the drug. A task force assembled by Sessions encouraged continued study of whether to change or rescind the approach taken under former President Barack Obama.
In Alaska, Walker said he shared Sessions’ concerns about the dangers of drug abuse but said state rules for marijuana businesses address federal interests, including public health and safety concerns. The governor said Sessions cited a 2015 state drug report in raising questions about Alaska’s regulations but noted that the first retail shops didn’t open until late last year.
The state is taking “meaningful” steps to curb illegal cannabis use, especially by those who are underage, Walker and state Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth wrote in the letter obtained through a public records request.
In a separate letter, Lindemuth was more pointed.
“Given the diversity of public sentiment regarding marijuana throughout the country, marijuana regulation is an area where states should take the lead,” she wrote.
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Alaska political leaders have long pushed back on issues where they think the federal government is overstepping its bounds. The state’s lone U.S. House member, Republican Rep. Don Young, said he’s never smoked pot but supports states’ rights.
The state voted on it, “and the federal government should stay out of it,” he told the AP last year.
The largest voting bloc in the state is not affiliated with a political party, though President Donald Trump won with just over 50 percent of the vote last fall. Voters in 2014 approved recreational marijuana, with about 53 percent support.