Bipartisan support for marijuana policy is virtually unheard of. But a unanimous vote in favor of upholding citizens’ right to legal cannabis? It’s so rare as to be almost mythical. Yet that’s exactly what happened in the Alaska House on Monday, where state legislators voted unanimously to demand that the federal government stop trying to enforce federal cannabis law there. With Alaska taking a stand against threat of federal cannabis crackdown, will other states follow suit?
Alaska To Feds: Respect State Regulation Of Marijuana
In the Alaska House on Monday, the large digital “scoreboard” that tracks lawmakers’ votes provided a stark visual of the state’s unanimous support for legal cannabis.
Yeas, 38. Nays, 0. That was the final tally (two excused absences notwithstanding) of the Alaska House’s vote on a resolution charmingly represented on the scoreboard with the phrase, “Feds Respect State Reg of Marijuana.”
“Hey, Jeff Sessions. Back off,” would have been an equally appropriate and accurate title.
The rare unanimous decision came on the heels of repeated calls, including a congressional delegation, that the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Session’s justice department respect the will of Alaskan voters, who legalized recreational cannabis in 2014.
The vote on the resolution was indeed an unusual measure. But when Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama-era Cole Memo, which had ordered the feds to leave states to their own devices on the issue of legal cannabis, Alaskan lawmakers decided to circle the wagons.
Rep. David Guttenberg (D-Fairbanks), explained that the resolution became necessary when it became clear that a Sessions-led DOJ was setting its sights on states with legal cannabis.
“The Cole Memo recognized that there’s a growing conflict between states that have legalized marijuana and the federal government,” Guttenberg said. “Unfortunately, this administration rescinded that memo.”
The Cole Memo is a landmark legal document in the history of the cannabis industry in the United States. Essentially, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole wrote the memo in 2013. It stated that if cannabis businesses complied with state law, they needn’t worry about federal prosecution.
Guttenberg authored the resolution that passed 38-0 on Monday. The measure has no force of law, but it makes the clear statement: Alaska taking a stand against threat of federal cannabis crackdown.
Final Hit: Alaska Taking A Stand Against Threat of Federal Cannabis Crackdown
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a Trump appointee and former Senator from Alabama. He has a long history of opposing drug policy reform. Furthermore, he has frequently couched his views on the matter of cannabis in virulently racist rhetoric.
On January 4, shortly after taking office, Sessions announced that he was rescinding the Obama-era Cole Memo. The announcement came as part of Sessions’ broader strategy to restart the drug war. First on the agenda? Cracking down on states where voters had legalized cannabis for recreational use.
That’s why the Cole Memo had to go. It stood in the way of Sessions’ plans to enforce the federal ban on cannabis.
When Sessions took office in 2017, his first strategy was to accuse legal weed states of violating the terms of the Cole Memo. These violations, if true, would make the states vulnerable to federal prosecution.
When leaders in those states challenged Sessions arguments, however, Sessions refused to engage in dialog. Governors from Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have all asked to meet in person with Sessions. They wanted to engage in more direct dialog to answer the perceived violations Sessions insists are occurring.
So far, Sessions has declined to meet directly. Then, in January 2018, Sessions decided to throw out the memo entirely.
It was this move that ultimately prompted Alaskan legislators to pass a resolution demanding Sessions back off. And that’s how Alaska is taking a stand against threat of federal cannabis crackdown.
Remarkably, it’s the threat of federal prosecution, rather than representatives’ own views on marijuana, that prompted the unprecedented unanimous support for the resolution.
“This resolution is not about which side of the vote you are on on the recent initiative legalizing personal use,” said Rep Chuck Kopp (R-Anchorage), a retired police officer.