The feds are throwing their weight around again when it comes to Washington state’s medical marijuana law. A proposal to rewrite the state’s medicinal cannabis rules attracted federal attention after Governor Christine Gregoire asked for “clear guidance” about the U.S. Department of Justice’s position on state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, which would be legalized under the new rules.
Gov. Gregoire, who sent the letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday, claims she “became concerned” about a “potential federal crackdown” after speaking with the U.S. attorneys for Eastern and Western Washington, Michael Ormsby and Jenny Durkan, reports Jonathan Martin at the Seattle Times
The prosecutors claim they are concerned that the proposed legislation “would legalize commercial sales of marijuana,” according to state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the bill’s prime sponsor.
|Photo: Seattle Weekly
|U.S. Attorney Michael C. Ormsby likes to run his mouth and throw his weight around.
U.S. attorneys Ormsby, who already started threatening Spokane dispensaries last week, and Durkan noted that the U.S. attorney for Northern California was threatening to prosecute operators of a proposed commercial grow farm in Oakland, even though the farm was licensed by that city and legal under state law, Gov. Gregoire said in her letter to the Attorney General.
The bill in question, SB 5073, would create new state licenses for dispensaries, grow farms and cannabis food processors. State licensing of dispensaries is already in place or is currently being implemented in states like Colorado, Maine, New Jersey and New Mexico, as well as in the District of Columbia.
Gregoire’s letter seeks federal input before considering whether to sign the bill. Some political observers of a cynical bent believe the governor may simply be seeking political cover for a spineless veto of all or portions of the bill.
“The governor wants to make sure that if a law goes forward, it’s done in a way that won’t set up Washington state for an endless battle of court cases,” claimed her spokesman, Scott Whiteaker.
|Photo: News Junkie Post
|Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles: “Why should our state be treated any differently than other states?”
But Sen. Kohl-Welles said she was mystified why the Department of Justice would treat legalized dispensaries in Washington any differently from six other states and D.C., which all currently license and regulate dispensaries.
“Why should our state be treated any differently than other states?” Kohl-Welles rightly asked.
Ormsby, the headline-seeking hot dog of a U.S. attorney in Spokane, last week threatened in a news release to seize property where dispensaries were operating. An estimated 40 dispensaries do business in Spokane.
Ormsby warned that “marijuana stores” are illegal, and threatened property owners who rent to them with forfeiture of their buildings if they refused to evict the dispensaries.
“We are preparing for quick and direct action against the operators of the stores,” Rambo, I mean Ormsby, wrote.
At least 120 dispensaries are operating statewide in Washington, with marked differences in enforcement from county to county. The shops are using a gray area of the voter-approved 1998 medical marijuana law, which neither expressly allows nor prohibits the dispensaries.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law as a Schedule I substance, but the U.S. Department of Justice has taken a mostly hands-off approach to patients and providers in states where medicinal cannabis is legal since an October 2009 memo issued shortly after Attorney General Holder took over.
That memo famously said that patients and providers in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state laws were not a priority of federal law enforcement, but a trickle of federal raids has continued to take place, including multiple raids in the past month in Montana and California.
However, the DEA has to our knowledge, so far at least, never raided any state-licensed medical marijuana growers or dispensaries in states like New Mexico and Maine, which explicitly allow and license the facilities through their state health departments.