Federal Marijuana Policy: The Governors Speak

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 11.53.02 PMYesterday, the governors of Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Alaska submitted a brief, plainspoken letter to two federal officials: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnunchin. The letter requests that the Trump administration respect states’ rights, and engage with the governors “before embarking on any changes to regulatory and enforcement systems” related to state-legal marijuana. You can view the letter here.

Anyone following the story of weed in America knows that Jeff Sessions holds retrograde views on cannabis. Mnunchin has been more circumspect, stating only that FinCEN guidance on banking pot businesses is a “very important issue” and that he would “work with Congress and the President to… ensure that all individuals and businesses compete on a level playing field.” Unlike Sessions, Mnunchin has not shown his hand on cannabis policy to date.

The governors’ letter is not the first communication by any of these states with the new regime regarding cannabis. On February 15 Governor Jay Inslee of Washington wrote to Sessions requesting a meeting on the cannabis issue, which appears not to have been granted. The next week, Governor Kate Brown of Oregon attended a meeting with several other governors and President Trump, who purportedly wanted to give “more flexibility to the states”— at least in a general sense, and at least on that particular morning.

Other key players, like Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, have taken a less conversational approach, and promised to fight the feds on cannabis. (If you are wondering how that may pan out, see our analysis here and here.) This combative approach has been echoed by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, as well Oregon U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Earl Blumenauer, dependable cannabis advocates who have been busy charting a Path to Marijuana Reform as well.

So, which approach is best? Maybe all of them. It is clear that state governors, officials and representatives are not going to rest while the threat of federal enforcement looms. Private industry has also banded together, with lobbying groups like the New Federalism Fund, which consists of marquee industry players (including Canna Law Group clients), rising to the fore. The April 3 governors’ letter is only the latest in a series of salvos by states and the industry. Expect more to come.

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