Washington Officials Respond to Sessions’s Marijuana Threats

By Tom Angell | August 15, 2017

Top Washington State officials are firing back against a threatening letter that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent them concerning the state’s marijuana laws last month.

“Your letter, citing the March 2016 Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (NW HIDTA) report on marijuana in Washington, makes a number of allegations that are outdated, incorrect, or based on incomplete information,” Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, both Democrats, wrote to Sessions on Tuesday.

(Scroll down to see the full letter.)

“Your letter repeatedly fails to distinguish between marijuana activity that is legal and illegal under state law,” they added. “Instead, it conflates the two in a manner that implies that state-legal marijuana activity is responsible for harms actually caused by illegal marijuana activity.”

For example, Sessions cited 17 explosions at THC extraction labs. But Inslee and Ferguson point out that the U.S. attorney general’s letter “fails to clearly acknowledge that none of these explosions were at labs operating legally under state license. Legal extraction labs are required to use equipment certified by an engineer, and to be inspected by the fire marshal. In the history of our licensing system, no legal extraction lab has ever had an explosion.”

In Sessions’s letter, dated July 24, he wrote that the HIDTA report “raises serious questions about the efficacy of marijuana ‘regulatory structures’ in your state.”

The two officials criticized the federal attorney general for refusing their requests to meet in person to discuss the issue.

“We have twice requested an in-person meeting with you because we believe it will lead to better understanding than exchanging letters,” they 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. We therefore reiterate our request to meet with you, followed by further appropriate meetings between state and DOJ officials.”

They also took issue with Sessions’s claims about driving under the influence, regulation of medical cannabis dispensaries, and interstate diversion of marijuana products.

The Washington officials are requesting clarification from Sessions on a number of issues:

  • Whether DOJ intends to follow recommendations from its Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety—in particular, its reported recommendation to continue previous federal policy on state legalization of marijuana.
  • Whether President Trump’s previous statements of support for medical marijuana, and leaving recreational marijuana legalization to the states, represent the policy of the federal government.
  • Whether DOJ will support reasonable federal policies allowing financial institutions to provide service to licensed marijuana businesses, in order to avoid the public safety risks and transparency problems associated with all-cash businesses.
  • How state-regulated marijuana should be treated by the federal government following the President’s declaration that the opioid crisis constitutes a national emergency, and whether the federal government will support objective, independent research into the effects of marijuana law reform on opioid use and abuse.
  • Whether the federal government will help protect public health by supporting agricultural research on the safety of pesticides used in marijuana cultivation.
  • Whether the federal government will support research into expedited roadside DUI testing methods for law enforcement, as alternatives to blood draws.

“We encourage you to keep in mind why we are having this conversation,” they conclude. “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. Under Washington’s system, responsible adults are allowed access to a highly regulated product that returns substantial tax revenues to the government even as it displaces illegal activity.”

Inslee and Ferguson also enclosed a 16-page publication, dated June 2017, that outlines the state’s efforts to implement marijuana legalization in a way that protects public health and safety.

Sessions also sent similar letters to the governors or Colorado and Oregon last month.

See below for the full letter that Inslee and Ferguson sent to Sessions:

Tom Angell

Tom Angell is a senior political correspondent for MassRoots. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority and is editor of the daily Marijuana Moment newsletter.

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