Amid uncertainty around whether President Trump’s Justice Department will respect state cannabis laws, Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week sent a letter to Washington state officials slamming that state’s legal cannabis system. It’s the attorney general’s sharpest opposition to legal cannabis since he asked Congress to remove a crucial federal protection for medical marijuana states.
In the letter, sent to Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, whose office upset the Trump administration by successfully challenging the White House’s travel ban, Sessions reiterates that “Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a crime.” He cites a 2016 law enforcement report that he says “raises serious questions about the efficiency of marijuana ‘regulatory structures’ in your state.”
Sessions’ letter, obtained and first reported by the Huffington Post, draws exclusively on the report by the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, a drug-prohibition enforcement program out of the US Office of National Drug Control. It includes a laundry list of claims in an effort to show that Washington’s cannabis laws are failing to effectively regulate the industry.
76% of Americans support individual states being able to make their own laws around cannabis use and sales.
Not only is the medical market “considered ‘grey’ due to the lack of regulation and oversight,” Sessions writes, but “the ‘recreationally licensed’ marijuana market is also incompletely regulated.” He notes evidence for the diversion of Washington-grown cannabis into other US states and raises concerns about illegal sales of cannabis to minors.
Some of the statistics are misleading. The letter says, for example, that “In 2014 alone, 17 THC extraction labs exploded,” but it doesn’t say whether those labs were above-board operations or amateur, black-market concentrate makers. Virtually all explosions related to extraction have occurred at illegal and unregulated facilities.
He also writes that “Washington State marijuana has been found to have been destined for 43 different states,” though he doesn’t specify what that means. While there have been some recorded examples of larger shipments of cannabis being diverted out of the state, Sessions’ numbers could very well include a tourist’s attempt to bring a vape pen home on an airplane.
As for underage use, several studies have shown that cannabis consumption by minors in legal-cannabis states has remained steady or even fallen. In Colorado, a report found that rates of use increased among adults from 2005 to 2014 but actually decreased among minors.
Sessions’ letter came in response to three separate letters from Washington state officials urging him to respect the state’s cannabis laws. In his reply, he writes that he appreciates the “offer to engage in continuing dialogue on this important issue.” He then directs state officials to explain how they plan to solve every problem in the system.
“Please advise as to how Washington plans to address the findings in the Northwest HIDTA report,” he writes, “including efforts to ensure that all marijuana activity is compliant with state marijuana laws.”
Earlier this year, a Quinnipiac poll found that 94% of Americans support allowing doctors prescribing adults medical marijuana.
Another survey, conducted by SurveyUSA for the advocacy organization Marijuana Majority, found that 76% of Americans support individual states being able to make their own laws around cannabis use and sales.
The full letter from Sessions is embedded below: