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Fed Threat Puts Washington Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bill in Doubt

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #680)
Drug War Issues

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.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Bob Reeves (not verified)

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.

Thu, 04/21/2011 - 4:00am Permalink
Bob Reeves (not verified)

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.

Thu, 04/21/2011 - 4:24am Permalink
bigjohn (not verified)

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. 

Thu, 04/21/2011 - 1:08pm Permalink
forgetaboutit (not verified) they ready to add about 100billionto the budget for rehab centers....keep the addiction going and I have job security!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thu, 04/21/2011 - 2:11pm Permalink
forgetaboutit (not verified)

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!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thu, 04/21/2011 - 2:17pm Permalink
saynotohypocrisy (not verified)

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.

Thu, 04/21/2011 - 3:38pm Permalink

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.

Thu, 04/21/2011 - 7:31pm Permalink
gypski (not verified)

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.

Thu, 04/21/2011 - 10:09pm Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

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?

Fri, 04/22/2011 - 2:31am Permalink
Bruce Frank (not verified)

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!       

Fri, 04/22/2011 - 10:19am Permalink

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