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State Leaders Respond to Sessions’ Criticism of Legal Cannabis

Published on August 7, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions pauses as he answers questions during his interview with the Associated Press at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, El Salvador, Thursday, July 27, 2017. Sessions is forging ahead with a tough-on-crime agenda that once endeared him to President Trump, who has since taken to berating him. Sessions is in El Salvador to step up international cooperation against the violent street gang MS-13. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired a warning shot at state-legal cannabis last week. In separate letters sent to leaders in Washington, Colorado, and Oregon, he raised what he called “serious questions” about the states’ cannabis laws. Now some state officials are shooting back.

“Honestly, it’s hard to take him seriously if he relies on such outdated information,” Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson told the Seattle Times in response to Sessions’ criticism. “Do your homework, get good information.”

In the letters, which have been criticized by cannabis reform advocates as misleading and designed to overstate the flaws in state cannabis programs, Sessions claims that the laws have been inadequately enforced, enabling minors to access cannabis and allowing diversion of legal cannabis into other states as well as the illegal market.

In a statement, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he’s “incredibly proud of the work we’ve done to implement legalization in a way that keeps youths safe, minimizes diversion into the black market, and minimizes diversion out of our state.”

“It is clear that our goals regarding health and safety are in step with the goals Attorney General Sessions has articulated,” Inslee continued. “Unfortunately he is referring to incomplete and unreliable data that does not provide the most accurate snapshot of our efforts since the marketplace opened in 2014.”

Sessions’ letters to the adult-use cannabis states rely on information from High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) reports. The HIDTA program, created in the late 1980s, exists to “reduce drug trafficking and production in the United States.”

In Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper said his office takes Sessions’ concerns seriously. “We welcome the opportunity to work with the Attorney General and arrive at the most effective approach to the states and the federal government working together to protect public health, public safety and other law enforcement interests,” a spokesperson told The  Denver Channel. “We take the concerns shared in the letter seriously and will provide a comprehensive response.”

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Gage Peake
Gage Peake
Gage Peake is a former staff writer for Leafly, where he specialized in data journalism, sports, and breaking news coverage. He's a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.
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