U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has "serious questions" about Alaska's legal marijuana industry, but Gov. Bill Walker is standing by the results of a 2014 ballot measure that created the industry.
In letters obtained by HuffPost that are dated August 1 and August 14, Alaskan Gov. Bill Walker and Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, both Independents, defend their state's marijuana law and the voters who approved legalization in the state.
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.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and his Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth responded in a letter dated August 14 that the 2015 data cited by the attorney general could not "be fairly attributed" to the new marijuana regulatory system since legal sales in the state did not begin until 2016.
They also suggested Sessions read the 2017 version of the report and included a state report on legalized marijuana with their letter.
"M$3 arijuana regulation is an area where states should take the lead", the August 1 letter reads.
Alaska implored Sessions to maintain the status quo regarding the Cole Memo: "We ask that the DOJ maintain its existing marijuana policies because the State relied on those assurances in shaping our regulatory framework, and because existing policies appropriately focus federal efforts on federal interests".
The Cannabist has obtained copies of each of the attorney general's July 24 letters to those states.
"Your letter ... makes a number of allegations that are outdated, incorrect, or based on incomplete information", Inslee and Ferguson, both Democrats, wrote to Sessions.
The pair also called out Sessions for repeatedly failing to "distinguish between marijuana activity that is legal and illegal".
One such example was a statistic from the report that listed 17 explosions in marijuana extraction labs, they said.
Alaska is taking "meaningful" steps to curb illegal pot use, especially by those who are underage, Walker and state Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth wrote in the letter. To date, "no legal extraction lab has ever had an explosion", they said.
Whether the federal government will help protect public health by supporting agricultural research on the safety of pesticides used in marijuana cultivation.
"We encourage you to keep in mind why we are having this conversation", Inslee and Ferguson conclude. The people of Washington State chose by popular vote to try a different path. Sessions has sent similarly critical letters to Colorado and OR, which were among the first four states to legalize the drug for recreational purposes. By conflating the two, Sessions implied that state-legal marijuana was responsible for harms actually caused by illegal activity, they wrote.
There is widespread concern among marijuana legalization activists that the attorney general may be willing to ignore such evidence and resume strictly enforcing federal laws. Sessions cited a series of statistics from a 2016 report on drug trafficking in the Northwest. The Justice Department wouldn't disclose the task force's proposals.
The letter from Alaska officials also raised the issue of states rights, including state law enforcement.
While the legalization of marijuana was a heated issue for voters in Alaska, the state's political leaders have long supported the idea that the federal government shouldn't overstep its bounds with regard to state laws.