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Fed Threat Puts Washington Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bill in Doubt

A bill that would create a system of state-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries and patient registries faces an uncertain future after Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) said she would not sign legislation that could get state employees in trouble with the feds.

The battle is joined over dispensaries in Washington, and the clock is ticking. (Image via
The bombshell statement came after she solicited the input of the state's two US Attorneys, Mike Orsmby in the Western District in Spokane and Jenny Durkan in the Eastern District in Seattle. The prosecutorial pair responded to Gregoire's inquiry with an April 14 letter warning of a possible federal response if the legislation passes.

"Growing, distributing and possessing marijuana in any capacity, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws permitting such activities," Ormsby and Durkan wrote. "State employees who conducted activities mandated by the Washington legislative proposals would not be immune from liability under the Controlled Substance Act."

"I will not sign anything subjecting state employees to prosecution," Gregoire said last week after receiving the letter.

The bill, Senate Bill 5073, has passed both houses, but needs to go before a conference committee to hammer out differences. Gregoire has urged legislators to send her a bill she can sign. They have until the end of the week to do so before the legislative session ends.

Some dispensary supporters are urging legislators to stand up to Gov. Gregoire, but others said the bill, as amended in the House, removed protections for patients and must be fixed in concurrence before going to the governor. The main House amendment removed protection from arrest from patients unless they signed onto the state's patient registry. And some are so unhappy with the bill, they would rather see it die.

The ACLU of Washington, which supports the bill, sent a letter to legislators over the weekend urging them to stand firm and saying the concerns expressed by Gregoire were overblown. The federal government has never prosecuted a state employee implementing a dispensary program, the letter pointed out, citing the example of New Mexico, where the state Department of Health administers the program.

The US Attorneys' letter displays the federal government's insistence on being part of the problem instead of part of the solution, said the letter, written by ACLU attorney Shankar Narayan. "The feds have promised no action to control the chaos of semi-legal businesses, yet balk at a law that regulates them sensibly," Narayan wrote. "The legislature and our governor must step in where the feds will not, so that patients can have access to medicine and communities are safe."

On Tuesday, the Seattle mayor, city council, and city attorney all signed a letter to the Senate calling the federal threats to state employees "specious" and urging that body to accept the House amendments and send a strong bill to Gov. Gregoire.

"The question we face is not whether or not we are going to have medical marijuana use in Washington State," the Seattle officials wrote. "The voters already decided that question more than a decade ago. The question we face is whether or not we will have a thoughtful and rational regulatory framework for the production, processing, and distribution of medical marijuana. In its current form SB 5073 provides much needed clarity to this important issue and we urge you to adopt it and send it to the governor."

Also on Tuesday, several dozen demonstrators showed up at the state capitol in Olympia calling on the governor to sign the dispensary bill. The protestors said Gregoire was abandoning patients and snubbing the will of the voters.

"We're in the early stages of making some noises to try to get the governor to change her position," said Philip Dawdy, a spokesman for the newly formed Washington Cannabis Association, which came together to support the bill.

Another activist group, the Cannabis Defense Coalition, however, is harshly critical of the bill as amended by the House, saying the House action had "torpedoed" the bill. The bill as amended by the House includes language "that removes arrest and search protection for authorized patients who choose not to notify the state of their medical treatment decisions and disqualifies parolees and people on probation from any medicinal use of cannabis," the group complained.

And pot provocateur and CannaCare dispensary operator Steve Sarich was even more harsh, telling the Seattle Weekly that the bill as amended by the House "eviscerated" patients' rights. Sarich led a small group of demonstrators to the ACLU of Washington offices last week to protest its support of the bill.

But now, it's up to the legislative conferees and the governor. Will the unpopular House amendment stand? Will the legislature stand up to the governor? Will the governor stand up to the feds? We will have the answers in a matter of days.

Olympia, WA
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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SB 5073: the good and the bad

The medical cannabis bill that passed the Washington State House of Representatives Monday, April 11, is now a ghost of its former self, and is set to dramatically weaken our state's voter-approved medical cannabis law. For some folks, anything one can paint as a victory to donors helps their bottom line, and for some, adding myriad restrictions to our law is a necessary evil in a long-term political and public opinion strategy. But please be informed that the bill as amended in the state house is, on balance, shockingly horrible for medical cannabis patients in our state.

On the arguably positive side, SB 5073 implements a very limited and licensed dispensary and grower network in Washington State. It promises to provide limited protections to patients who register with the government in a future state-run database run by our Department of Health, whose current director has a history of refusing to implement medical cannabis legislation and of surreptitiously supplanting rules created in the public rule-making process with the will of our governor. It provides an affirmative defense to patients visiting from out of state. It also defines "useable cannabis" and "plant" much more favorably.


  • Requires an authorizing health care professional to be the primary care provider or a "specialist" -- which likely requires specialty certification, which does not exist currently for medical cannabis -- in order to authorize the medical use of cannabis. Section 301.
  • Places ten new requirements on health care professionals who recommend medical cannabis. Disallows health care professionals from running "medical cannabis only" clinics, or from making any statement on the medical use of cannabis in any advertisement for their practice. Violations would be findings of unprofessional conduct, and the punishments may include per-violation fines of up to $5,000 and license revocation under RCW 18.130.160. Most doctors in our state that currently authorize medical cannabis risk having their livelihood destroyed in doing so. Section 301.


  • Protections from search and arrest were gutted on the house floor. Patients will not be safe from police terror unless they register in a future government database, which we believe may never be implemented by our Department of Health. Section 402.
  • Invalidates all current "lifetime" authorizations. Section 201(32)(b)(i).
  • Places additional requirements and limits on "designated provider" documentation. Section 201(32)(b)(iii).
  • Codifies in law that state-funded housing programs may disallow the medical use of cannabis. Section 410.
  • Disavows the medical necessity common law defense. Washington appellate courts have a "division split" on the medical necessity common law defense, and the bill specifically removes its underlying support for the defense as we wait to see if our supreme court will take up the appeal. Section 102(3).
  • Denies the medical cannabis affirmative defense to members of our military. Section 501(5).
  • Expressly allows DOC or any other correctional authority to disallow the medical use of cannabis. Sections 102(4), 201(26)(b), 803(3), 1105.
  • Expressly allows Washington State hotels and motels to refuse to accommodate medical cannabis patients. Section 501(4).
  • Makes "tougher" the existing restrictions against driving "under the influence" of medical cannabis. Section 501(8).
  • Provides immunity to law enforcement and all other state actors who violate the privacy of the future state-run registry. Section 1101.


  • Removes the affirmative defense and legal underpinning for all currently operating dispensaries. Section 201(6)(d).
  • Requires currently operating dispensaries to notify local authorities of their intent to apply for a future license if they are to be afforded an affirmative defense in court. This notification -- or admission of criminal behavior -- will likely lead to threats of closure and raids from local authorities. Section 1201.
  • Places an "advertising ban" on dispensaries that forbids speech which "promotes or tends to promote the use or abuse of cannabis." Specifically states that any visual or artistic representation of cannabis is illegal. Each violation is punishable by fines of up to $1,000. Section 802.
  • Allows local jurisdictions to adopt zoning, "health and safety," licensing, and tax requirements on dispensaries. Section 1102.

READ THE BILL: 5073-S2.E AMH ENGR H2509.E.pdf

The feds are on the wrong side of the marijuana laws

So we are going to tell the Feds they can’t tread on Washington’s Marijuana laws.  I think the tea party should be with us on this one.  I hear we should ignore the Feds and pass the law.  Washington State could participate in civil disobedience.  Like the Civil War.  My friends and I are proud to be disobedient for a good cause.  Unfortunately, I don’t think States can be disobedient to our federal government.  We have to respect the unity of our united states.  I say we call the bluff of the misguided Federal attorney. 

During my youth I fought on the side of our federal government for the equal rights of my brothers and sisters.  Equal rights laws protected all our citizens over the objections of many of the States.  The Feds are on the wrong side of the Marijuana law.  The first Marijuana law in history of humanity was in El Paso, Texas in 1905.  The United States of American started the Marijuana prohibition.  It is like the blue laws.  The anti-Marijuana laws are a holdover from the long days of beer prohibition.  Sounds crazy, but it is true.  Our country single handedly forced the world to outlaw marijuana through treaties and aid conditions.  We have been using terror on the world since 1905 to stamp out Marijuana.  It is time we stop blaming the Feds for a stupid law.  The Feds are us, we are all responsible.  So let us get rid of laws against marijuana.

The Centralia police are anti-American

Hub City Natural Medicine was raided by our brave Centralia police for dispensing Medical Marijuana.  Excuse Me.  There were no guns, no heron, no weapons of mass destruction, only a dried herb at Hub City Natural Medicine.  Not much threat to the community there. 

The Centralia police arrested me once for use of marijuana.  They planted seven joints in my home.  I know they planted it because we were totally out of weed.  We had looked everywhere for a joint.  The police found seven joints in plain sight.  Later the case was dropped because they had failed to get a judge to sign the search warrant.  They just wanted my friends to leave Centralia Junior College.  We had too.  Our parents were not amused.  That was over 40 years ago.  I wonder if it’s the same guys at the police department that are running our youth out of town, because they act different.  The marijuana laws should have never been enacted.  The legal system, the label of Drug User, no student loans, no federal jobs, only if you are not convicted.  Too many of our children have been convicted.  We were the first people in the history of the world to outlaw Marijuana.  Are we nuts?  Look at the harm we have caused.  Please stop the destruction of justice in our country with the insane marijuana laws.

Too late to worry about state workers in trouble with Feds

Washington state already sent out sales tax notices to nearly a hundred dispensers of medical marijuana, with state issued business licenses, a few months back.


It seems a bit late to worry about Feds arresting all Washington State elected officials and state workers already complicit in medical marijuana distribution in Washington state. Not to mention ridiculous. 

thc they ready to add about 100billionto the budget for rehab centers....keep the addiction going and I have job security!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Legalize you

Legalize you do, be ready to spend a 100 billion in rehab.....'cause you're gonna need it and I will have job security....woo hoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rehab centers - you mean forced re-education camps don't you?

Yeah I hear you about your job security. A lot of jobs depend on society abusing cannabis users. Ugly way to make a living but I guess if you drink enough booze or pop enough pills or need the money bad enough it's easy to forget about that.

Make the police run dispensaries!

There is one class of state & local employees that is exempt from having to register under the federal Controlled Substances Act: agents enforcing state or local laws concerning controlled substances.  They can manufacture, possess, and distribute as long as they're enforcement officers.  So let police run the dispensaries; after all, someone has to enforce the regs to make sure no ineligible persons receive the goods.  As long as they have some enforcement responsibility and keep some persons from receiving med mj due to lack of eligibility, and have the power to arrest violators, which of course the police do, they're fed-legal.

Veto, Veto, Veto

For once, I want to see a politician do exactly what they said, veto this terrible bill that does not give protections to patients but give it all to Law Enforcement.  Come clean Christine, you know you have skeletons like Roy Alloway hanging in your closet.  And he's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to drug nets.  Give the patients legal protections or do as you say, veto this bill.  Don't wait, do it today so you can show you don't play political games but honor your own words.  Don't flip flop and mince words, just VETO IT.

What a mess

This is what happens when you have a federal government that is trying to have it both ways.Obama flip flopped on this issue already so if Eric Holder wants to join him and say one thing while authorizing another,so what?I have no idea what the deal is with this bill and with all the fog surrounding the cannabis issue these days who does?We had 10,000 people enjoy 420 in Vancouver and our safe injection site just got a thumbs up from the Lancette and yet Stephen Harper and his evangelical government is still in court trying to shut Insite down and if Harper ever has his way,pot will be a capital crime.Our two countries are as divided on this issue as they are on everything else.While approval for cannabis is at over 50% here and that rises to over 60% if the topic is medical marijuana,we can't seem to get numbers out to vote with this issue in mind.If you live in Canada and have a vote the greens are for legal MJ and the NDP say they are too.I have a photo of Layton with his arm around Marc Emery's shoulder?

Same ol' tactics

Sometimes innocent people get targeted, and this is just a way to slowdown, limit, and intimidate the officials making policy, as well as the sick and dying patients. If law is passed and establish within a state, forged by it's citizens, then that should be who the Washington states officials listen too. Don't go through the motions and expense, then back down from a little pressure from the feds. Landlords who rented to cannabis patients, and their caregivers were targeted. Developers, property managers, nobody was safe, not even the doctors who made patient recommendations. It's the federal governments regular routine, and none, unless really doing something outside the lines, have been prosecuted. Grow a pair, and listen to your constituents, or they will get someone who will!       

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