How Alaska Gun Nuts May Save Legal Marijuana in California (And Beyond)

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In the last month of 2012, much of America was in the grips of a mass psychosis. 

A disturbed, mentally ill young man who had access to military-grade weaponry and a cache of ammunition used his arsenal to murder his mother and then a roomful of 5- and 6-year old schoolchildren, their teacher and their principal. 

Rather than question the state of affairs that could have led to such a thing or take action to prevent a redux, immediate reactions to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School included denial—like insisting the tragedy of inconceivable scale was a conspiracy to take away Americans’ 300 million firearmsfollowed by a flurry of NRA-funded lawmaking to ensure such a conspiracy could never come true (and simultaneously preserving both “gun rights” and the likelihood that similar gun massacres could continue unimpeded, as they have in the ensuing four years). 

In Alaska, Mike Chenault, speaker of the Alaska State House, watched the action in faraway Washington anxiously. Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress wanted to move fast on strengthening the nation’s gun laws. They would fail, but as a safeguard, Chenault rushed through what was described at the time as a “gun rights bill.”

But as Alaska Commons explains, House Bill 69, Chenault’s slapdash law was in fact a “nullification bill.” HB 69 couldn’t quite invalidate “anything the federal government does regarding the possession or acquisition of a firearm.” But it could say that state agencies could be prevented from working with federal law enforcement or other officials on anything related to gun control.

So if Congress banned AR-15-style Bushmaster rifles, like the one used in the Sandy Hook massacre, Alaska would not help round them up. If Congress required background checks, mental-health checkups or anything more stringent than what Alaskans wanted when buying a gun, Alaska would not enforce them.

The law flew through the Alaska legislature; Republicans wore camouflage scarves to celebrate the occasion, according to Alaska Commons. Not that it mattered: the same Congress that needed to be strong-armed into passing a law affording more Americans a modicum of healthcare coverage succeeded in obstructing gun control entirely. Guns similar in firepower and purpose to the AR-15 have since been used to achieve new levels of American carnage, such as the slaughter of rooms full of people in San Bernardino, California and in Orlando, Florida.

Barring a Steve Bannon lobotomy, gun control is likely not going to wander into President Donald Trump’s attention span anytime soon. Even if it did, it’s near inconceivable that the cause would be taken up by Deep South conservatives like Jeff Sessions, the current attorney general who once declared gun-toting racist militias like the Ku Klux Klan were good people, until he found out they smoked weed.

No, for folks like Sessions—and health secretary Tom Price, and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt—drugs like marijuana (which has never killed anyone, ever) are a much bigger threat to Americans than guns (which are specifically designed and built with killing things in mind, including people, always). We are more likely to see a nationwide crackdown on legal cannabis (enacted, most likely, at gunpoint) than we are likely to see even modest action on firearms. 

During his confirmation hearings, Sessions was reticent on his plans for dealing with states legalizing marijuana and creating billion-dollar cannabis industries in violation of federal law. He also hasn’t said anything about marijuana as attorney general yet, but he won’t stay silent forever. State officials like Idaho Gov. Butch Otter have written to Trump begging for a federal crackdown on weed.

Here’s where the Alaska gun law comes back into play.

What if it was rewritten in such a way where “cannabis” was substituted for “guns”? As Alaska Commons’s John Aronno pointed out, that’s the solution hit upon by California Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer. 

Jones-Sawyer recently introduced legislation that would bar any California official from participating in a federal-led crackdown on cannabis without a court order signed by a judge.

If AB 1578 is passed and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, federal authorities would have to get a court order simply to acquire public records about California’s cannabis industry. And since a current act of Congress bars the Justice Department from doing anything to interfere in state-legal cannabis, that seems difficult to do.

It’s not clear if Jones-Sawyer took Alaska’s gun-control knee-jerk as his direct inspiration. But the spirit is the same—using state law to circumvent interference from Big Government.

You be the judge whether it’s more prudent to use such a tool for guns or for ganja, but we suspect history will judge by the body count.

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