The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Marijuana store to remain open despite recent federal policy shift

Trump administration's pot policy reversal draws strong response from Alaskans


January 10, 2018

It's business as usual for Alaska's first legal retail marijuana outlet – despite a recent announcement from Washington that the Trump administration intends change its enforcement of federal marijuana laws.

Herbal Outfitters in Valdez - Alaska's first legal marijuana store – opened its doors in October of 2016, under the management of Derek Morris.

"Our take on it?" he said Monday in an interview at his office inside the store. "We're not changing how we do business. It's still normal day to day."

The business was flooded with phone calls and concerned customers as soon as the announcement was made according to Morris, who said others in the Alaska industry are keeping a cool head regarding possible federal enforcement.

"From my knowledge and what I've taken from it, we're not going to be seeing raids," he said. "We're not going to be seeing the Justice Department coming in."

No attorney generals have prosecuted legal licenses businesses on the state level at this point in time.

Morris said that it is too soon after the announcement to even know how or if the move will be handled in Alaska.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he has put the top federal prosecutors in states with recreational marijuana back in charge of deciding whether to press pot cases – reversing an Obama-era policy that allowed states to legalize recreational marijuana and allowed regulated sales.

Reaction from Alaska politicians was swift.

Gov. Bill Walker said he wants to prevent federal overreach and intends to fight for the will of Alaska voters, who passed a statewide proposition to allow recreational sales and use of marijuana – with strict regulation by the state.

Spokesman Jonathon Taylor said Walker and state Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth were evaluating possible options for doing that. Lindemuth said her office has a duty to uphold and implement state law.

Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young ripped the Justice Dept., calling the move a "direct violation of states' rights."

Young told the Associated Press that if the decision by Sessions stands and Congress allows the department to crack down on individuals and states, "it will be one of the biggest derelictions of duty I will have witnessed."

The announcement also spurred the resignation of the chairman of the state's Marijuana Control Board, who said the decision strips away the underpinning for the legal marijuana industry in Alaska.

The state, in setting up its marijuana industry, drew guidance from a memo from President Barack Obama's administration that limited federal enforcement of the drug, as long as states prevented it from getting to places it was still outlawed and kept it from gangs and children. Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

Alaska U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder said his office will continue to follow long-established principles in deciding which cases to charge, including following federal law enforcement priorities.

"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," he said in a statement.

Alaska's senior U.S. senator, Lisa Murkowski, said she had asked Sessions to work with states and Congress if he thought changes were needed. The Republican called his announcement "disruptive" and "regrettable."

Sen. Dan Sullivan said it contradicts previous statements by Trump but could be the impetus for Congress to find a permanent solution for states that have chosen to regulate marijuana.

Pot industry advocates said Sessions' decision creates confusion and flies in the face of a growing legalization movement.

Home in Valdez, Morris said Herbal Outfitters is active in the movement to encourage the federal government reschedule marijuana.

"That's why we implemented the legal markets – to keep it regulated and tested," he said. "We're staying actively involved. The day it was rescinded, it was Jan. 5 I believe. On the sixth we had phone calls into the governor."

Morris knows it will take more than the support of state lawmakers to stop federal intrusion.

"We want to see Congress to take this as a lesson, to step forward and legalize the market across the board, and have it regulated like tobacco and liquor," Morris said. "It comes down to Congress and them doing something proactive, not just talking about it."


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