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States’ rights

Alaska Rep. Don Young toured a trio of marijuana-related businesses recently in Anchorage, getting a first-hand look at industry operations within the Last Frontier.

Young’s visit to a cultivation site, dispensary and retailer was covered by The Alaska Landmine, which included in its coverage photographs of a smiling Young posing with business owners and staff as well as holding a marijuana plant and a pound of Tundra Berry product.

The story’s opening paragraph described a marijuana customer’s response at seeing a familiar face across a glass showcase.

“Uh ... is that Don Young selling weed?” the customer inquired.

No, the 86-year-old Republican congressman for all Alaska wasn’t selling marijuana. Young was there to learn, and learn he did.

“This has been very informative,” Young told the Landmine’s Jeff Landfield at the end of the tour. “Learning what it’s about, how it’s being processed, how it’s being sold, how it’s being regulated — the whole bit. Most people don’t understand that.”

Like the aforementioned customer, some people might be a bit surprised by Young’s involvement in marijuana issues. However, Young, has been at the forefront of congressional work toward changing federal law and policy regarding cannabis.

“I’m a conservative, Republican. But I believe in state’s rights,” Young said in 2017, the year he co-founded the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

Young elaborated on that view earlier this year when he and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii co-sponsored the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act that would move marijuana from the federal controlled substances list, and provide states with full authority to regulate the cannabis without federal interference, according to The Hill.

“I am a passionate supporter of a states’ rights approach to cannabis policy,” Young said when announcing the proposed legislation. “For too long, the federal government has stood in the way of states that have acted to set their own marijuana policy, and it is long past time Congress modernized these outdated laws.”

Young has been co-sponsoring federal marijuana legislation since 2015, the year that personal non-medical marijuana use and possession became legal in Alaska after being approved by Alaska voters in 2014 by a vote of 149,021 to 130,924.

Young’s co-sponsorship of cannabis-related legislation include two in 2015. One of the bills proposed to end federal prosecution of medical marijuana in states where it has been legalized. The other would “allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies, recognize a legitimate use for marijuana at the federal level, and allow Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend safe and effective marijuana-related treatments,” according to a Young announcement.

In 2017, Young co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to allow marijuana-related businesses in states with that have marijuana regulatory structures to access the banking system, which would end the industry’s current reliance on cash transactions. Another multi-component bill introduced in 2017 would, in part, amend federal law to allow states to set medical marijuana policies for themselves.

The common thread is ending federal involvement in cannabis laws and regulation in states that have legalized and regulate aspects of marijuana production and consumption.

For Young, it’s not an ethical or moral issue about marijuana use — a position that he acknowledges has bothered some of his supporters. Young told Landfield that he’s doing what he believes in.

“You can’t be choosy,” Young said, as quoted by Landfield. “Either you are for states’ rights or you’re against states’ rights. You can’t pick one that you like and not have the other.'”

As of 2019, 33 states have laws that “broadly” legalize marijuana in some form, with Alaska now among the 11 states with the “most expansive” laws regarding recreational marijuana use, according to Governing magazine.

Alaska voters made a decision in 2014 regarding marijuana. Not everyone was or is pleased with the decision, which local and state governments are continuing to try to sort out while the industry gets up and running. Still, Young is correct to support Alaska’s decision and to try to change federal rules, such as banking restrictions, that negatively affect what now is a legal industry.

At the same time, state and personal decisions relative to marijuana should be made with the best information possible. Much is known about marijuana, but significant “gaps” exist, especially relative to medicinal uses.

It’s encouraging then, that Young also is cosponsoring federal legislation to study how state marijuana legalization affects things like state revenues, public health, substance abuse and opioids, criminal justice and employment.

Federal rules should allow more research into the effects of recreational cannabis use and effectiveness of medical treatments, as well. The federal government has a valid public health role in furthering this type of research, and Young should support that involvement to help states exercise their rights in the most informed ways possible.