The Capitol Record

Federal government won’t sue state over marijuana law

Gov. Inslee speaks with U.S. Attorney Eric Holder (courtesy of Inslee's office)

The federal government announced Thursday it will not challenge marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado, clearing the way for the states to move forward with voter-approved laws that legalized marijuana for adults over the age of 21.

Gov. Jay Inslee said he was told of the decision in a telephone call Thursday morning with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Inslee praised the Obama administration for the decision, saying it “took courage, foresight and a lot of common sense wisdom.”

“This will allow our state to move forward and show the country the way a well-regulated system can be effectuated in a state,” Inslee said at a press conference Thursday.

The federal government will only enforce eight areas of the federal Controlled Substance Act in Washington and Colorado. Those areas were outlined in a memo sent to the governors and included the following:

  • Preventing the distribution to minors
  • Stopping marijuana revenue from going to “criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels”
  • Keeping marijuana within the borders of the states where it is legal
  • Preventing marijuana activity from being used as a “cover or pretext” for drug trafficking
  • Firearms or violence cannot be used in the cultivation or distribution of marijuana
  • Preventing driving while intoxicated
  • Marijuana cannot be grown on public lands
  • Marijuana cannot be possessed or used on federal property

Inslee said the eight areas align with Washington’s rules for legal marijuana sales. He said the state will have especially strict rules to keep marijuana out of the hands of minors, and to prevent them from being swayed by advertising.

“We will not allow what happened with Joe Camel tobacco to happen with marijuana,” Inslee said. “As a grandfather of three, I’m dedicated to that.”

Liquor Control Board director Rick Garza said the state will have even stricter laws for minors than it did when the state operated liquor stores. Those under 21 will not be allowed on the premises of any marijuana store or processing operation, he said, and those who sell marijuana to minors will face more severe penalties than those who sell alcohol to minors.

The federal government has also indicated a “willingness” to work with the states to come up with a banking or financial structure that will allow marijuana businesses to operate without violating federal law, Inslee said.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said there are still details to work out in the coming weeks and months, especially in regard to the medical marijuana industry.

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in Seattle said Thursday that the state’s “unregulated” medical marijuana industry would still violate federal law.

Watch the press conference with Inslee and Ferguson below:

TVW will air repeats of the press conference Thursday at 3:45, 6 and 9:15 p.m.


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