Let­ter on pot a “po­lit­i­cal ploy”

A Colorado law­maker dis­misses U.S. AG Jeff Ses­sions’ con­cerns about mar­i­juana.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By John Frank

BOS­TON» A lead­ing Colorado law­maker dis­missed a re­cent let­ter from At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions that ex­pressed con­cerns about the state’s mar­i­juana in­dus­try, call­ing it a “po­lit­i­cal ploy.”

State Rep. Dan Pabon, a Denver Demo­crat, sug­gested the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is skew­ing sta­tis­tics to ex­ag­ger­ate the prob­lems of youth use and crime in Colorado.

His re­marks came at a fo­rum on mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion at the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures sum­mit in Bos­ton, where law­mak­ers and ex­perts ap­peared un­de­terred by the tough talk from Ses­sions.

Ses­sions’ let­ter, ad­dressed to Colorado Gov. John Hick­en­looper, was one of four writ­ten to the gover­nors of states that have laws reg­u­lat­ing adult-use cannabis sales. Along with Hick­en­looper, the gover­nors of Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon and Alaska wrote a let­ter to Ses­sions in April, ask­ing him to “en­gage with us be­fore em­bark­ing on any changes to reg­u­la­tory and en­force­ment sys­tems.”

Ses­sions is “try­ing to do what he feels like he needs to do to demon­strate the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s po­si­tion of crack­ing down on mar­i­juana,” said Pabon, a chief spon­sor of the leg­is­la­tion en­acted in Colorado af­ter recre­ational sales were ap­proved by vot­ers in 2012.

Maine state Rep. Teresa Pierce, a Colorado na­tive, said she re­mains fo­cused on im­ple­ment­ing le­gal recre­ational mar­i­juana, an ini­tia­tive ap­proved by vot­ers in her state in 2016.

“To worry about what-ifs while we were try­ing to get our own sys­tem up and go­ing, it felt like that was not good en­ergy to spend,” said Pierce, who re­cently vis­ited Colorado with a del­e­ga­tion of law­mak­ers to study the state’s sys­tem. “Ob­vi­ously if things change, we’ll have to ad­just course. But at this point, who knows what will hap­pen?”

Jor­dan Welling­ton, an at­tor­ney at Denver cannabis law firm Vi­cente Seder­berg, told dozens of law­mak­ers from other states at the fo­rum that the sta­tis­tics about Colorado’s ex­pe­ri­ence do not match what the Depart­ment of Jus­tice claims in the let­ter. And he urged oth­ers states not to be de­terred.

“Don’t al­low a group of peo­ple who have their minds made up be­fore they look at an is­sue to con­trol the data … to con­trol the nar­ra­tive,” said Welling­ton, a for­mer Colorado mar­i­juana reg­u­la­tor who now con­sults for the in­dus­try.

In the panel dis­cus­sion, Pabon said Colorado is “cer­tainly ready and will­ing and able” to dis­cuss bet­ter poli­cies to pre­vent mar­i­juana from reach­ing chil­dren and how to ad­dress the black mar­ket. But he didn’t con­sider Ses­sions’ let­ter as a gen­uine ef­fort to work with state law­mak­ers.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have le­gal­ized adult-use cannabis.

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