Governor Hutchinson said today he believes the U.S. Department of Justice should distinguish between the medical and recreational use of marijuana when enforcing federal drug laws.
The comments, made during a Thursday afternoon press conference about an unrelated issue, were in response to reporters’ questions regarding today’s move by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind Obama administration policies that minimized federal prosecution of marijuana-related crimes.
“From my perspective, there needs to be a difference in view between medical marijuana and recreational use of marijuana,” Hutchinson said.
“Sessions … should look at where President Trump has been. President Trump has recognized medical marijuana as an appropriate exception to federal enforcement policy, but he’s not said the same thing about recreational use.”
With the passage of a 2016 ballot initiative, Arkansas joined the growing list of states that have legalized medical marijuana, though pot sales have not yet begun due to a slow implementation of the amendment. The measure was opposed by Hutchinson and most other Republicans before its passage. Recreational use remains illegal in Arkansas.
“I think it’s a very significant development today,” Hutchinson said today of Session’s announcement to undo the Obama-era policy. “The question is what he’s going to replace that guidance with … [and] whether there’s going to be any carve-out exception in federal enforcement policy.”
The governor noted the nascent marijuana industry in Arkansas needs clarity about whether financial institutions, which are subject to federal regulation, can perform transactions that may involve money related to marijuana sales. “Obviously, that impacts us in Arkansas with medical marijuana production and businesses.”
The process of distributing licenses to marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers is currently underway in the state.
But Hutchinson — who is a former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — did not directly criticize Sessions’ decision. He suggested that it would be appropriate to enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have sanctioned the recreational use of the drug, in part because of the chilling effect that the threat of such prosecutions might have on the spread of full legalization.
“I do not want Arkansas to become a recreational use state. The people passed medical marijuana; they did not adopt recreational use, and I do not believe they would. And so I don’t want to see that national trend working its way into Arkansas, and federal enforcement is an important part of where we go as a country,” he said.
Hutchinson would not say whether he would ask Sessions or the Trump administration for such a delineation between medical and recreational states.
“I’ve known Jeff Sessions for 30 years. We were both U.S. attorneys together. I know him well, and the only surprise I have is that it took him this long to get there,” he said. “But it’s still a little bit unknown as to where it goes from here. I may express my views to them, but we’ll wait and see.”