As Nevada moves forward with creating legislation around a newly legal recreational marijuana industry, two Republican leaders are trying to get advice from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Assistant Senate Minority Leader Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, and Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, sent a letter Thursday to Sessions expressing concern over the state’s current full-steam-ahead approach with the recreational marijuana industry despite the fact that marijuana is still illegal on a federal level.
“A great deal of legislative time is being dedicated to considering the regulatory structure for recreational marijuana, in addition to wholesale and retail excise tax proposals,” read the letter from the two legislators.
While the White House has not issued an official stance on recreational marijuana use, Sessions has compared current marijuana use to the opioid epidemic and also has linked it to an uptick in violent crimes.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also told media during a February press conference that citizens could expect “greater enforcement” of the nation’s continuing federal prohibition of recreational marijuana. Marijuana still is considered a Schedule 1 by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
“We recognize the federal government’s supremacy on the subject of drug enforcement. The uncertainty over the federal government’s intentions surrounding the enforcement of federal drug laws, however, complicates both our regulatory and budgetary deliberations,” the letter states.
“While there has been significant speculation surrounding your intentions on this subject, we thought it might be appropriate to simply ask for some guidance.”
Currently, a variety of bills have been introduced during the legislative session, which lasts through June 5. The bills address a variety of issues, including public consumption, edibles packaging, amnesty for past marijuana offenders and blood tests for drivers.
Gov. Brian Sandoval also has a task force made up of government and industry stakeholders that meets daily to create the temporary regulations and a tax structure that are set to be in place after June. In Sandoval's proposed budget, he has estimated that the recreational and medical marijuana industry could bring in as much as $100 million together over the next fiscal year, which would allow for certain expenditures on schools.
"I'm just trying to stay in my lane so we can try to plan this state budget," Kieckhefer said.
Kieckhefer is uncertain whether he and Anderson will receive a response from Sessions. As far as he knows, no other Nevada leaders have successfully spoken with Sessions on the topic.
"I feel like this is a problem that is ultimately going to have to be decided by the United States Congress," Kieckhefer said. "If President Obama had not been elected, we wouldn't even be in this position because recreational marijuana would not have gotten off the ground."
While industry leaders have publicly downplayed the likelihood that federal officials will interfere with states’ rights, U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden, based in Las Vegas, sent a letter to the Moapa Paiute Tribe in February reminding the tribe that the transport, possession, use and distribution of marijuana is illegal under federal law. The tribe was just about to hold a marijuana festival on tribal land.
While the festival still happened, the hosts of the event last-minute had to inform attendees of the situation and had to cancel several planned cannabis-focused activities.
Currently, eight states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana, including Nevada, where recreational marijuana became legal as of Jan. 1. The Department of Taxation, which will oversee the recreational marijuana industry, aims to have temporary regulations written by June 1.
In 2013, the Cole Memorandum guided federal officials to operate under state law when enforcing recreational and medical marijuana regulations. Following comments from both Spicer and Sessions, however, some states have made efforts to protect themselves from the possibility that the new administration may rescind the memorandum.