In this Dec. 15, 2017 photo, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going after legalized marijuana. Sessions is rescinding a policy that had let legalized marijuana flourish without federal intervention across the country. That’s according to two people with direct knowledge of the decision. (Carolyn Kaster | The Associated Press File)

In this Dec. 15, 2017 photo, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going after legalized marijuana. Sessions is rescinding a policy that had let legalized marijuana flourish without federal intervention across the country. That’s according to two people with direct knowledge of the decision. (Carolyn Kaster | The Associated Press File)

Alaska marijuana businesses vow to press on after Sessions’ decision

Juneau’s marijuana retailers say they will continue to press ahead after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended an Obama-era policy Thursday that paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in Alaska.

Sessions said the previous guidance “undermines the rule of law” and said U.S. prosecutors in the states where pot is legal could decide which marijuana activities to prosecute.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Anchorage did not say whether it would change its existing policies. In a prepared statement, spokeswoman Chloe Martin wrote, “The highest priorities of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alaska are consistent with those of the Justice Department nationally: combating violent crime, including as it stems from the scourge of drug trafficking.”

Bryan Schroder was confirmed as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska in November. The noncommital statement from his office followed one from the U.S. Attorney of Colorado, Bob Troyer, who vowed to continue operating in his state as he already does.

Peter Mlynarik, the chairman of the Alaska Marijuana Control Board and police chief of Soldotna, announced his resignation from the board after Sessions’ announcement.

Talking to the Empire by phone, Mlynarik said the announcement was the “primary reason” for his departure. Mlynarik has also voiced dissatisfaction with the way marijuana is tested in the state.

He told the Empire that the rescinded document “was a crucial element in order for the states to operate without having to look over their shoulders.”

Without that federal guidance, “it looks like it takes the legitimacy out of (state legalization).”

Loren Jones, a City and Borough of Juneau assemblyman who also sits on the board, said it’s too early to tell what will happen as a result of the federal move.

“I’m guessing that nothing will change in Alaska for a while, if it changes at all,” he said.

Cary Carrigan of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association said the Sessions decision “is a clear slap in the face to the American voters and the residents of Alaska, who overwhelmingly and resoundingly have supported this industry at the ballot box.”

Alaskans approved a 2014 ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana consumption by a 53-47 margin, making the state the third (behind Washington and Colorado) to create a recreational industry.

James Barrett of Rainforest Farms, Juneau’s first retail marijuana store, said his company is not planning to change the way it operates.

Another Juneau retailer told the Empire by text message: “Meh. What can we do?”

Lacy Wilcox, of AMIA’s Juneau chapter, said by phone, “We’re just going to continue to operate as we have been and hope our state officials have our back. We’re going to continue to be awesome.”

Alaska officials have generally condemned the federal decision but have not pledged to take any specific action.

Gov. Bill Walker said in a prepared statement that he remains “committed to upholding the will of Alaskans on this issue, and maintaining our state’s sovereign rights to manage our own affairs while protecting federal interests.”

He added that he intends to work with the Department of Justice and Alaska’s Congressional Delegation to prevent federal overreach.

The members of that delegation also offered their own thoughts.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, each said they were disappointed with the decision, and Sullivan said he “will be examining new and existing legislative proposals and working to ensure the rights of Alaskans and the state of Alaska are protected.”

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, offered the most full-throated opposition to Sessions’ action. “The Tenth Amendment was created to protect states’ rights and the (Justice) Department is overstepping their boundaries on this front,” he said in a prepared statement from his spokeswoman, Murphy McCollough.

Young also called for a renewal or expansion of a budgetary amendment that prohibits the federal government from spending money on prosecuting cases against state medical marijuana laws. That amendment was passed in 2014 and has been renewed through late January. He said Congress has not been allowed to vote on that amendment or expand it to cover recreational marijuana use.

“If this stands and Congress allows the Department to crack down on individuals and state governments, it will be one of the biggest derelictions of duty I will have witnessed. As the Dean of the House, I have seen a lot in my time. Congress is the voice of the people and we have a duty to do what is right by the states,” he said.

All members of Alaska’s Congressional delegation failed to take the step promised by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, who vowed to block all presidential appointments for the Department of Justice until the situation is resolved.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258. Information from Associated Press reporter Becky Bohrer contributed to this report.


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