Washington State Legislature
8:11 am
Fri April 15, 2011

Feds put brakes on controversial medical-pot dispensaries law

A new law that would legalize medical-marijuana dispensaries and growers in Washington has already passed both chambers of the legislature in Olympia.  But it looks like it won't ever take effect.

That's because the state's top federal prosecutors have threatened to crack down if it goes forward.

In a letter to Governor Chris Gregoire, U.S. Attorneys Jenny Durkan of Seattle and Michael Ormsby of Spokane write that the bill would undermine drug enforcement

They outline an array of civil penalties and other prosecutions that could be brought against pot-growers and dispensaries, even if the bill becomes law.  In light of that, Gregoire said last night (Thursday), it's clear she can't and won't sign it.

As Jonathan Richman writes in a comprehensive article on the front page of the Seattle Times today, the letter came in response to her query about the new measure.  Richman summarizes the significance of the policy debate:

The bill, SB 5073, is the most sweeping rewrite yet of the 1998 initiative legalizing medical marijuana. It is a response to pressure from municipal governments and police unsettled about a statewide boom in dispensaries, which were neither specifically allowed nor banned under existing law.

Advocates say the legislation is meant to help communities complaining about the proliferation of growers and sellers – who currently operate on the assumption that they should be allowed, given the need from many patients with prescriptions for their wares.  But in many places, intolerance is growing faster than the Cannabis leaves and coveted buds they produce.  

KPLU's Gary Crawford has an informative post about that issue.  Here's an excerpt:

You can't walk into a store and legally buy marijuana in Washington for medical or any other purposes. Yet. But some cities in the state - anticipating that you soon might be able to - have placed a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and another is considering one. And the shops aren't even lawful. Yet.

But the US attorneys say federal agents could go after the pot-producers' landlords and financiers. 

Supporters, including the American Civil Liberties Union, tell the Seattle Times there's still hope for the state law they're backing, based on what other states have done…one alternative would be to require all dispensaries to be non-profit organizations.

Meantime, a marijuana advocacy Group called Sensible Washington is gathering signatures to put a pot legalization initiative on the November ballot.