Washington Governor ‘Very Satisfied’ After Meeting With Attorney General Holder On Marijuana

Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) said he plans to move forward with implementation of the state’s recreational marijuana law after a positive meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, both former Governor Christine Gregoire and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (R) have implored the Department of Justice for guidance as their states move to implement marijuana legalization measures approved by voters in November. While both laws have already gone into effect and now permit the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for those 21 and older, the states will not authorize dispensaries and suppliers to operate until a months-long procedure for writing and implementing regulations is complete. The Seattle Times reports:

Inslee said the 45-minute conversation was “very satisfying” and a “confidence-builder” about the state’s ability to move forward implementing legal marijuana. “We went in thinking we should continue with rule-making and nothing I heard should dissuade us,” Inslee said.

At the same time, he stressed that Holder said nothing about the federal government’s intentions and whether it would crack down on Washington state or look the other way.

Inslee said he did not press Holder for a clearer signal, or position, because he considered their talk a preliminary meeting, with more discussions to follow.

Noting that the state is moving ahead with rule-making, Ferguson said he emphasized that the state would like answers soon. “We made it very clear that while we’re moving forward, some deadlines are coming up soon. I think Attorney General Holder understood that we’d need guidance in months to come,” Ferguson said. […]

In case the federal government decides to oppose the law, Ferguson has a team of lawyers in his office preparing to make the best legal case for upholding I-502.

While Inslee is preparing for a legal battle with Holder, enforcement of federal marijuana law may not manifest itself in a lawsuit against the state. Perhaps more likely are individual actions against those in violation of federal drug law. This could take the form of a raid by a DEA agent, a criminal action by an individual federal prosecutor against the owner of a dispensary, a federal forfeiture action seeking to seize the property where a dispensary is housed or even a move by the Internal Revenue Service to block deduction of all marijuana business expenses.

These types of actions have ensnared some suppliers of medical marijuana in the federal-state conflict. Just last month, the one-time owner of a medical marijuana dispensary who was seemingly in compliance with California law was sentenced to ten years in prison. And the landlords for the country’s largest dispensary are embroiled in a prolonged legal battle to seize their properties.

While President Obama did tell Barbara Walters last month that his administration “bigger fish to fry” than targeting “users” of recreational marijuana, he said nothing about suppliers or distributors — the targets of federal medical marijuana enforcement. And the only public statement coming from the DOJ or the DEA since November has been a generic statement just following the election that federal enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act “remains unchanged.” Still, Gov. Inslee is no doubt aware of these individual prosecutions, and is likely on watch for signs that the dispensaries his state is going through the trouble to regulate will not be subject to federal crackdowns.