Medical pot now put in spotlight

Officials say system 'not tenable' in light of federal decision

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SEATTLE -- Washington's medical marijuana system is "not tenable" in light of new guidance from the U.S. Justice Department about its pot-related enforcement priorities, the chief federal prosecutors in the state said Thursday.

The warning came after the agency said it will allow the states of Washington and Colorado to move forward with plans to tax and regulate recreational marijuana sales.

In written statements, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in Seattle and U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby in Spokane promised the feds won't hesitate to go after people operating outside the legal framework set up by Washington voters last fall.

The state legalized medical use of marijuana in 1998 but never offered many options for how patients are supposed to obtain the pot. They can grow it themselves or allow someone to grow it for them, but medical marijuana dispensaries are not allowed under state law.

Nevertheless, such dispensaries have proliferated -- with no oversight by state government or controls on where the marijuana comes from or where it goes. Federal authorities have raided some they deem to be fronts for criminal activity.

"The continued operation and proliferation of unregulated, for-profit entities outside of the state's regulatory and licensing scheme is not tenable and violates both state and federal law," the nearly identical statements from the prosecutors said. "While our resources are limited, we will continue to enforce federal law in this arena."

Washington and Colorado last fall became the first states in the country to legalize the possession of marijuana by adults over 21. The votes also called for systems of state-licensed pot growers, processors and retail stores -- prompting much hand-wringing about whether the federal government would sue to block the schemes from taking effect.

Inslee said his administration has already been having discussions about how to bring Washington's medical marijuana providers and patients into a regulated system.

Philip Dawdy, a spokesman for the Washington Cannabis Association, said the DOJ's guidelines put pressure on the Legislature to regulate the medical side of the industry quickly.