Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent letters to the governors of Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington — the first four states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana — questioning their respective regulatory regimes. Here's how the governors of those states responded.

The Sessions Letters: The first four states to legalize marijuana respond to attorney general’s missives

Resource: Here's how the govs of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington defended their states respective marijuana regulatory regimes

Over the past 10 days, the governors of the first four recreational marijuana states sent responses to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ July 24 letters outlining concerns about each state’s program.

Sessions’ letter was itself a response to a joint letter the four governors sent Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in early April.

Alaska replied first

Gov. Bill Walker and Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, in a letter dated Aug. 14, said that the 2015 data cited by Sessions “cannot be fairly attributed” to Alaska’s marijuana industry, since sales began there in 2016.

“The report simply does not speak to the success or failure of the new regulatory framework,” they wrote.

The Alaska leaders also noted that youth use rates in their state are below the national average and declining; the state continues to enforce and prosecute illegal marijuana crimes; and that the regulatory framework’s seed-to-sale tracking program, age and advertising restrictions, and education efforts bolster federal interests of culling diversion and protecting public health and safety.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker’s letter of August 14



Washington was next

Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s Aug. 15 response pushed back on Sessions’ citation of data from the March 2016 Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (NW HIDTA) report on marijuana. They also repeatedly requested an in-person meeting with the attorney general.

That report “makes a number of allegations that are outdated, incorrect or based on incomplete information,” Inslee and Ferguson wrote. “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.”

The pair also argued that Sessions conflated legal and illegal marijuana activity, resulting in the implication that state-legal marijuana was responsible for harms caused by illegal activity.

Inslee and Ferguson concluded:

Finally, we encourage you to keep in mind why we are having this conversation. State and federal prohibition of marijuana failed to prevent its widespread use, which was generating huge profits for violent criminal organizations. The people of Washington State chose by popular vote to try a different path. …

Our state’s government and law enforcement are committed to the goals you have articulated, and to good faith cooperation and coordination with the Department of Justice as we work to serve the public and defend the will of the people.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s response to AG Jeff Sessions, August 15:



Oregon responded in two stages

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton said that the data Sessions used to draw his conclusions came from a report that was inaccurate.

In his own letter of August 16, Hampton said the report, which Sessions’ cited and attributed to Hampton’s agency, was the “first and least defensible draft,” which the agency “had no immediate plans to publish until objective data could be recovered for many years.”

When the report was leaked, Hampton said, “The agency attempted to make clear the document was not accurate, not valTidated, outdated and the Oregon State Police did not endorse the conclusions in the draft baseline report. Unfortunately you sourced the same leaked draft document as evidence against Oregon’s marijuana regulatory structure.”

In her letter dated August 22, Brown noted, “The Oregon State Police determined that the draft report required significant additional work and revision, because the data was inaccurate and the heavily extrapolated conclusions were incorrect.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown response to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ letter of July 25:



Oregon State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton’s letter supporting Brown’s statements:



In a five-page missive obtained by The Cannabist, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said that Colorado’s marijuana regulatory system is a model for other states, and the fledgling program could become even more robust with the federal government’s support.

“The State of Colorado has worked diligently to implement the will of our citizens and build a comprehensive regulatory and enforcement system that prioritizes public safety and public health,” Hickenlooper and Coffman wrote. “When abuses and unintended consequences materialize, the state has acted quickly to address any resulting harms.

“While our system has proven to be effective, we are constantly evaluating and seeking to strengthen our approach to regulation and enforcement.”

Hickenlooper and Coffman’s letter of August 24:




The Sessions Letters: Read the U.S. attorney general’s missives to the first four states to legalize marijuana