Marijuana is kept in display jars for customers to smell at the Colorado Harvest Company shop in Aurora, Colo., in September 2015. (Brennan Linsley, Associated Press file)

Four governors team up, urge feds to keep marijuana enforcement status quo

Governors in four states have joined forces with a marijuana message for two top officials in the Trump administration.

In an open letter, the governors on Monday asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to “engage with us before embarking on any changes to regulatory and enforcement systems.”

The signatories of the letter are Gov. Bill Walker of Alaska; Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado; Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon; and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington. They lead the first four states to implement laws allowing recreational marijuana sales.

The letter dated April 3 urges Sessions and Mnuchin to maintain the current guidelines established under the Obama administration for law enforcement and financial oversight of states that have legalized marijuana for medical or adult use, and expresses concern about making major changes:

Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences. Changes that hurt the regulated market would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states. Likewise, without the (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) guidance, financial institutions will be less willing to provide services to marijuana-related businesses.

“Any forced change in federal enforcement policy will interrupt the collaborative approach we have taken with local law enforcement and the federal government,” Mark Bolton, Hickenlooper’s adviser on marijuana policy, said in a statement Monday. “Our hope is that we can continue working with the administration to build on a regulatory system that prioritizes protecting public safety and public health.”

In an interview last week with The Cannabist, Hickenlooper discussed the potential for enforcement changes in Colorado, which is now in its fourth year of recreational marijuana sales:

“I would argue to the attorney general that the country has potential benefit to be able to see this experiment through to a natural conclusion. Let’s go a couple more years and see and get more data and really see, “Are we worse off or better off than we were before?'”

(Read the governors’ letter below)

A cannabis industry advocacy group supported the letter.

“It’s great to see governors of the four operational states work together and stand up for constituents,” Aaron Smith, National Cannabis Industry Association executive director, told The Cannabist.

The national organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes the legalization and commercialization of marijuana, said in a statement: “While we don’t want to see state employees arrested for implementing state laws, or people locked up or given criminal records for smoking pot, we support federal laws against marijuana. … Common sense tells us that drug laws in one state affect people in a different state.”

The governors’ letter follows other recent action by politicians regarding federal policy. In early March, eleven U.S. senators from eight states that have laws legalizing recreational or medical marijuana sent an open letter to Sessions asking for the Department of Justice to uphold the existing enforcement protocol.

Cannabist staff reporter Alicia Wallace contributed to this report.

Updated April 4 at 1:37 p.m.: This article has been updated with a statement from Smart Approaches to Marijuana.