Ecotopia Redux: Feds “Warn” Washington on Medical Marijuana Law
Governor Gregoire fired back at the Obama administration today, saying, “They can take our medical marijuana when they pry it from our cold dead hands,” and putting the Washington National Guard on alert. The Governor gave her press conference in front of a hastily constructed flag that read “The Soviet of Washington.”
That’s what I’d like to tell you happened anyway. The above was not meant as a factual statement. I don’t think anyone believes we elected that kind of governor.
Instead Governor Gregoire has announced that she will veto the medical marijuana bill that passed both House and Senate. “In light of the Department of Justice’s guidance, it is clear that I cannot sign a bill that authorizes our state employees to license marijuana dispensaries when the department would prosecute those involved,” Gregoire said.
Gregoire had asked for guidance from federal authorities, and got an answer from U.S. Attorneys Jenny Durkan (Washington’s Western District) and Michael Ormsby (Eastern District), which noted that the bill:
…would authorize conduct contrary to federal law and thus, would undermine the federal government’s efforts to regulate the possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of controlled substances. Accordingly, the Department could consider civil and criminal legal remedies regarding those who set up marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries as they will be doing so in violation of federal law.
Gregoire’s veto is an outsized reaction to a fairly low-key response. The feds “could consider” remedies, and state employees “would not be immune” from liability. As The Stranger‘s Dominic Holden argues, the precedent here is New Mexico, whose Department of Health has been overseeing the distribution of medical marijuana for the past three years: “Feds have never prosecuted and state employees in New Mexico running the medical marijuana program,” says Holden.
As I noted earlier, Gregoire was uncomfortable with the bill’s passage, even though its intent is simply to affirm an earlier citizen’s initiative allowing medical marijuana, and lay out clear regulations for marijuana’s cultivation and distribution. (Previously it was legal for a doctor to prescribe medical marijuana for you, and for a patient to possess a certain amount, but how you got it, legally, remained a murky legal affair, depending in large part on the whim of local law enforcement.)
The Seattle Times headline says “Feds threaten a crackdown” but it’s hard to see a crackdown in the federal position, which specifically mentions targeting for-profit marijuana sales, organized crime trafficking, and fraudulent doctors’ prescriptions. A non-profit dispensary not run by the Medellin cartel and working with ethical doctors would seem to have little to fear. Per the Times:
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, the prime sponsor of the bill, said she was encouraged that the measure could still be passed after talking with Gregoire on Thursday evening. She said legislative staffers were working on alternatives. “We’re looking at a brand new approach,” she said, without elaborating.