Marijuana backers talk to reporters on Nov. 5, 2014 in Anchorage the day after voters made Alaska, along with Washington, D.C., the fourth state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. (Ted S. Warren, The Associated Press)

Sessions hits familiar, doubtful themes on cannabis regulation in letter to Alaska

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ letter to Alaska’s governor took a similar tone to his letters to other legal recreational marijuana states, questioning whether the The Last Frontier state’s regulations were adequately protecting its youth and other citizens.

On July 24, Jeff Sessions wrote the governors of four Western states — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — responding to a joint letter they had sent him more than three months earlier, April 3.

The Cannabist has obtained a copy of the last of these letters to Alaska, and the co-signed response from Gov. Bill Walker and state Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth.

In each of the previously-released letters, Sessions referred to regional and state data depicting serious public health and safety issues arising from marijuana legalization, and Alaska was no exception. Citing a 2015 Annual Drug Report by Alaska State Troopers, Sessions said the report “raises serious questions about whether marijuana ‘regulatory structures’ will be effective in your state.”

He cited findings from the 2015 report that “marijuana is available throughout the state and is often viewed as a gateway drug for young adults and teenagers,” and also noted “19 percent of high school students used marijuana within the last 30 days.”

The letter did not arrive in Alaska until Aug. 3. In the meantime, Lindemuth had sent a letter to Sessions dated Aug. 1, referencing the Department of Justice task force that Sessions had charged in April with evaluating state regulation of marijuana and other drugs, which at the time had not yet released its findings.

In her letter, Lindemuth pressed for states’ rights on setting marijuana policy:

Given the diversity of public sentiment regarding marijuana throughout the country, marijuana regulation is an area where states should take the lead. In fact, our federal constitution presumes that traditional police powers remain with state governments precisely because of our ability to be responsive to this type of regional variation in citizens’ policy preferences and priorities.

She asked to retain the current status between the Justice Department and the state, requesting the DOJ “maintain a policy substantially similar to the guidance articulated in the 2013 Cole Memorandum. From our perspective the existing policy is a pragmatic approach that effectively creates space for states to be responsive to our residents while also protecting federal priorities.”

She ends with a request to be kept in the loop: “Should the Task Force recommend a shift in DOJ policy, we ask that you engage directly with us to discuss potential approaches before reaching any final conclusions.”

On Aug. 4, The Associated Press reported that the task force had no new policy recommendations related to marijuana, instead recommending that officials continue to review the Cole Memo and other existing policies.

The governors of Washington and Alaska both wrote back to Sessions in the last few days, disputing the accuracy of the reports he cited, and asserting the rights of the states. The Cannabist has requested copies of any responses to be issued by Colorado and Oregon.

Read Jeff Sessions’ July 24 letter to Alaska’s gov about marijuana policy

Read Alaska AG Jahna Lindemuth’s pre-emptive letter to Sessions:

Read Alaska gov/state AG’s co-signed response to Jeff Sessions: