The Ongoing Saga of Federal Interference in Washington State & Push Back from Congress
October 15, 2011 | Kris Hermes
Earlier this year, on April 21st, the Washington State legislature passed SB 5073, a bill that would have established a licensing system for the dozens of medical marijuana distribution centers that existed to provide much-needed medication to thousands of patients throughout the state. Notably, the legislature passed the bill after Governor Christine Gregoire sought and received feedback from the Obama Justice Department. U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby wrote that growing facilities, dispensaries, landlords, financiers, and even state employees “would not be immune from liability under the CSA (Controlled Substances Act).” In other words, anyone remotely connected to the production and distribution of medical marijuana could be criminally prosecuted under federal law. Yet, the legislature must have seen through these threats of intimidation because it passed SB 5073 anyway.
Less than a week after SB 5073 was passed, on April 27th, U.S. Congressman Jay Inslee (D-WA) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, seeking “further clarification” on the Justice Department’s position on “federal prosecution in states that have enacted laws authorizing medical use of marijuana.” Specifically, Congressman Inslee sought clarification on whether the Justice Department would really “prosecute a state employee who is operating in full compliance with SB 5073.” Unfortunately, nearly 6 moths later, Congressman Inslee is still waiting for a response.
Not-so-coincidentally, a day after the congressman sent his request for clarification, the federal government conducted several aggressive law enforcement raids in Spokane, Washington and later indicted multiple dispensary operators under federal law. A day after that, Governor Gregoire vetoed the parts of SB 5073 that included the establishment of medical marijuana production and distribution regulations.
Apparently, this was a thought-out, well-conducted strategy by the Obama Administration to undermine the efforts of Washington State legislators to establish sensible public health policy with regard to medical marijuana. And Washington is not alone. Similar derailments of public health policy happened in Arizona, California, Montana, and Rhode Island, to name a few.
Thursday, Congressman Jay Inslee sent a follow-up letter to Attorney General Holder, reminding him that the Justice Department has:
[F]ar more critical functions than preventing some of our Nation’s most vulnerable residents from getting the relief they need.
Once again, Congressman Inslee asked for:
[A] detailed justification as to why the Justice Department is focusing such a substantial portion of its limited resources in this area.
This is yet another example of the push back from federal legislators on President Obama’s confusing war against medical marijuana. He would do well to respond and, better yet, President Obama should reconsider his harmful and indefensible policy.