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News / Clark County News

Washington leaders slam federal decision on legal pot

By Katy Sword, Columbian politics reporter
Published: January 4, 2018, 1:23pm

State and federal lawmakers representing Washington said they will prevail in their fight against the Department of Justice in light of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind Obama-era marijuana rules.

Speaking from the Capitol on Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee said the Cole memo, the most well-known marijuana ruling, is the foundation of Washington’s success.

“We are going to continue our operations in the state of Washington, and the reason is this is working in the state of Washington to provide a safe, well-regulated market for marijuana,” Inslee said.

Inslee spoke alongside Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Rep. Ann Rivers, R-La Center and Rep. David Sawyer, D-Parkland, hours after the news of Sessions’ plan broke.

Sessions’ immediate plan places the burden of judgment on individual federal prosecutors. His memo sent Thursday to all United States Attorneys said, “Given the Department’s well-established general principles, previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately.”

Those previous guides of course include the Cole memo, which states the federal government will not interfere with state-approved marijuana laws. Sessions did not make clear, however, if he will issue his own guidance or revert to past policy.

Inslee noted Sessions’ memo only gives the federal government more discretion.

“This may not mean any change in federal policy in Washington, we hope not,” he said. But Inslee warned that any U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Washington marijuana shops would face backlash and called on the public to push back with an “uproar of resistance.”

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Annette Hayes released a statement Thursday suggesting the focus would be on the black market and not Washington’s recreational marijuana market.

“Our enforcement efforts with our federal, state, local and tribal partners focus on those who pose the greatest safety risk to the people and communities we serve,” Hayes said.

Inslee added that the move was merely a distraction from the Trump administration’s own problems, instead of affirming the success of Washington’s marijuana market, which he called disciplined and regulated.

Prior to the move by Sessions, Inslee, Ferguson, Rivers and Sawyer asked to meet the Attorney General to discuss his concerns with marijuana, but Sessions refused to meet. Rivers added that Sessions’ decision is misguided and she wanted to work with the Attorney General on how to move forward.

Inslee and Ferguson said they received no warning from Sessions before the decision was made. Ferguson added he’s unsure how his office will respond, but he isn’t totally surprised by Sessions’ decision.

Sessions has not yet addressed the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which was approved in 2014 after six failed attempts. The amendment prohibits the Department of Justice from spending funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. The legislation requires annual renewal, because it’s attached to the federal spending bill. As of this moment, the amendment is intact. Temporary funding was approved through Jan. 19. But congress returns this week to negotiate a long-term spending bill. It’s possible the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer would be left out.

Yet another unknown is what this could mean for Clark County. The county council recently resumed a discussion about its policy that bans marijuana businesses in unincorporated parts of Clark County, like Hazel Dell and Salmon Creek. The county council plans to hold a public hearing either later this month or February to hear from the public on the matter.

Legislative reaction

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Thursday’s announcement is just another example of President Donald Trump and his administration breaking promises and “trying to jam through an ideological agenda that would be deeply damaging to people in Washington state and across the country.”

“When it comes to the legal, adult use of marijuana, the voters in my home state of Washington, and in many other states, have spoken clearly,” Murray said in a statement. “In the years since, Washington state has created a well-regulated system that works for families and communities, and I have supported policies at the federal level that provide clarity, stability, and security for consumers, regulators, business owners, banks, and credit unions. This latest move from the Trump Administration and Attorney General Sessions only makes our work to provide clarity at the federal level that much more urgent, and I intend to keep fighting to make sure Washington state is able to continue carrying out the will of its voters.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., also spoke out against Sessions’ decision.

“The Trump Administration’s decision is misguided and harmful. Instead of respecting the will of voters across our country and seeking input from states on how to move forward, the Attorney General is taking the Department of Justice backwards,” Cantwell said in a statement. “I will continue to support my state’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana.”

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, didn’t take a position on the DOJ move, but said, “There is a conflict between state and federal law regarding marijuana use, and Congress should provide certainty so that federal law enforcement policy can’t change depending on who runs the Department of Justice.”

Columbian reporter Jake Thomas contributed to this report.

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