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WA Governor Meets with DOJ on Marijuana Legalization

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #759)

Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) met Tuesday with Deputy Attorney General James Cole to discuss her state's passage last week of an initiative that legalizes and taxes the sale of marijuana for adults 21 and over. Federal law continues to consider marijuana possession, cultivation, and distribution to be criminal offenses.

Gov. Christine Gregoire (
Gregoire spokesman Cory Curtis told the Associated Press Monday that Gregoire had added the meeting to a previously scheduled trip to Washington, DC, to seek clarity from the Justice Department.

"We want direction from them," said Curtis. "Our goal is to respect the will of the voters, but give us some clarity."

They didn't get it Tuesday. Gregoire told the Associated Press the Justice Department had yet to make a decision on whether it would move to block the laws in Washington and Colorado. They needed to make a decision "sooner rather than later," she said.

"I told them, 'Make no mistake, that absent an injunction of some sort, it's our intent to implement decriminalization,'" Gregoire said. "I don't want to spend a lot of money implementing this if you are going to attempt to block it."

Under I-502, possession of up to an ounce of marijuana is legal beginning December 6, but the state has a year to come up with rules for a state-licensed cultivation, processing, and distribution scheme. Home grows remain illegal, except for medical marijuana patients.

Colorado also passed a legalization measure last week, Amendment 80. The state governor and attorney general spoke by phone with Attorney General Eric Holder last Friday, but got no clear indications of what the Justice Department will do.

Colorado also passed a measure legalizing the drug. Colorado's governor and attorney general spoke by phone Friday with US Attorney General Eric Holder, with no signal whether the US Justice Department would sue to block the marijuana measure.

Possession of up to an ounce and cultivation of up to six plants will be legal in Colorado by January 5 at the latest. That's the last day for the governor to add the amendment to the state constitution. Colorado legislators have about a year to write rules for state-regulated commercial cultivation, processing, and sales.

In both states, state officials worry that the federal government will sue to block them from implementing regulations.

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.


manja the ganja (not verified)

If they don't respect our vote we won't respect their laws. Jury nullification is the answer and voting out the politicians that oppose us. We need to become one issue voters until cannabis is legal.

Tue, 11/13/2012 - 5:57pm Permalink
Carl Olsen (not verified)

These governors should be suing Holder for maintaining a federal regulation that says marijuana has no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.  What do these governors think the voters were saying when they enacted these laws accepting the medical use of marijuana in treatment?  How can the people in those states let their governor's sell them out this way?

Tue, 11/13/2012 - 7:06pm Permalink
Patent lawyer (not verified)

In reply to by Carl Olsen (not verified)

I don't mean to be a nay-sayer but I don't think that is a valid criticism. In order for a substance to be considered a medicine and sold as a medicine in the US under federal law is must be approved by the FDA. So far no one has even remotely attempted to get cannabis (the herb as a whole) approved by FDA. THC in the form of marinol is a different story its approve. It is possible to do this with marijuana. Although I don't think its actually what most medical marijuana advocates want (even if they think they do). If cannabis is approved by FDA and scheduling is changed so will the regulations on medicinal cannabis. It will be subjected to a much stricter regulatory regime. For patients this would be a good thing but for growers it would mean more oversight and laws about what they can and can't do with cannabis (no pesticides, taxes, quality control etc). 

So really Governers have no say in approving medicine. Sure a state can pass a law saying people in our state can use this plant for medicine. But that doesn't change the FDA's stance. It can't until someone goes through the FDA approval process. 

Tue, 11/13/2012 - 7:26pm Permalink
GabrielC (not verified)

In reply to by Patent lawyer (not verified)

is that our government doesn't want us to think of them as medicines.   St. John's Wort is considered an "herbal supplement" even though there are warnings on most packing, and rightfully so, that St. John's Wort should not be mixed with other medications without first consulting a doctor.  This is called "drug interaction" and it is something to be concerned about.   So why do we call a drug an "herbal supplement"?  

Politics.  That' why.  Cannabis is a plant medicine, one of humanity's oldest and most respected through time.  It's not the plant's fault we let politics determine the definition of such things.  

If the FDA has a problem with plant medicines, and they can't get the facts straight, then they have no business being a leading federal authority and us tax payers should remind them of it.

Tue, 11/13/2012 - 7:38pm Permalink
Patent lawyer (not verified)

In reply to by GabrielC (not verified)

Yes there is enough clinical evidence to prove that marijuana doesn't belong in schedule I and that it does have medicinal value for a number of specific conditions. 

The FDA does have an approval process for botanical substances:

So in theory it is possible to put cannabis through such a process. However I must state that dietary supplements are under a different regulatory regime then botanical drugs. The reason there are so many more dietary supplements in the US compared to approved botanical drugs (only 1 prescription and a handful of OTC) is unfortunately economic. It costs more money to get a botanical drug approved so most companies or people decide to make dietary supplements that are less regulated and don't need clinical trials. Other countries like Germany have a somewhat different approach where clinical trials are less demanding on botanical substances with a long history of human use and hence they have more botanical drugs and doctors are more aware of the topic in general. 

But back to the point how many medical marijuana activists have you met who want to put invest the money into conducting clinical trials in the US under an FDA approved protocol for cannabis? Its against there own interests in some ways if their primary interest is profit. Of course the DEA would also obstruct any such attempts as they have done with the organization MAPS. But scientifically speaking one can prove to the FDA that cannabis is medicine. Is this even something the medical marijuana community even wants? I think its essential if people are serious about providing patients with best quality and most effective cannabis based medicines.

Tue, 11/13/2012 - 8:07pm Permalink
Mike Dar (not verified)

In reply to by Patent lawyer (not verified)

"In order for a substance to be considered a medicine and sold as a medicine in the US under federal law is must be approved by the FDA "..

The FDA is largely devoted to and an arm of the Department of Commerce. Such that 'Commerce' ultimately decides law/regs. Since Commerce is not extended in a lack of regulatory premises on MJ, for that reason and that reason alone,

the FDA will not use its applied, it's so called, scientist based merit, belief or document evidence that MJ is beneficial.

Your right that Govs cannot change current reg, but expecting Fed change via the common tools House Senate THEN the FDA which are controlled by current agenda driven commerce sectors will not fly either.

So the FDA can only be circumvented by 'popular vote'. As hard as it may be to avoid Fed intervention of what people put into their body's which benefits certain commercial interests, the Govs must understand just what the Fed is willing to do, to maintain the that status quo for already established commerce, lobbyers,  Democrats, Republicans, DEA on and on and on.. which have quite literally resources that are unlimited both in scope of dollars and the structure to do and say anything they mandate.

The only way forward is by public mandate, and the Govs have to deal with these two groups, the public vote and established commercial mandates.

Ultimately, the FDA will be seen more clearly as simply an arm of Commercial control I believe, not science based authority, at least in the MJ matters.

Wed, 11/14/2012 - 9:17am Permalink
Big Al (not verified)

In reply to by Patent lawyer (not verified)

Your statement that no one has tried to have cannabis approved by the FDA may be true, but it misses the point imho. Cannabis was only supposed to stay on Schedule I of the CSA by Congress until it could be properly studied to determine where it really belonged. But the DEA has blocked any attempt to do those studies for nearly four decades. They deny that it has any medicinal value in spite of serious evidence to the contrary, and medical marijuana laws in 18 states plus DC. Having the FDA say it is a medicine (in itself questionable as is manufactured by Mother Nature, not a drug company) seems like Step Two in a process where the Feds won't even let anyone get to Step One.

Wed, 11/14/2012 - 4:19pm Permalink
Robert Goodman (not verified)

In reply to by Patent lawyer (not verified)

Actually FDA has jurisdiction only over articles in interstate commerce.  Each state has its own pharmacy law and is allowed to license products within their state.  However, makers of products have seen it as a waste of their time to pursue licensure state by state, when the state laws also provide that if it may be sold legally in interstate commerce, it may also be sold in that state.  There was some consideration given to going state by state with mifepristone as an abortifacient when it looked like FDA licensure wasn't forthcoming.


FDA is allowed to make a presumption of interstate commerce when seizing an article alleged to be mislabeled or dangerous, although once it's seized you're allowed to give evidence that it was not an interstate item to get it back.


It is also technically possible on the question of fact, without applying to FDA, to market a drug in interstate commerce as "generally recognized as safe and effective" rather than a "new drug", but in practice everybody asks FDA for an opinion about that.  They can convene an advisory panel on the question theoretically at any time, even in the absence of a new drug application.

Thu, 11/15/2012 - 2:08pm Permalink
Uncle Bob (not verified)

Both Governors have now engaged with the DOJ, and still we know nothing.  What is taking so long?  Usually this kind of delay comes before bad news, so I'm not getting my hopes up.. or should we take this delay to believe that the administration WON'T be issuing the response we all have come to expect of them?  Maybe this could end up being Obama's "now would be a good time for beer" moment... hah ok, yeah I'm being way too optimistic here.

Tue, 11/13/2012 - 8:11pm Permalink
Uncle Bob (not verified)

But we still don't know anything yet.. the feds are still "undecided."

Well that is a good sign in my opinion... means they aren't jumping the gun here.  We have them thinking.

Wed, 11/14/2012 - 12:36am Permalink
anonymous libe… (not verified)

In reply to by Uncle Bob (not verified)


No one can know for sure what's going on behind the scenes.  But here's my best guess about the different "forces" that are fighting it out behind closed doors.


There's a large law enforcement bureaucracy that's devoted simply to drug control.  DEA, ONDCP, NIDA, the FBI drug task force, etc.  Add those national law enforcement agencies to state agencies, local police, and interstate cooperative agencies (I think).  Now you see the problem.  Some of those folks, especially at the local level, are funded almost purely by asset forfeiture.  (E.g., they take the property of <b><i>suspects</i></b> without due process.)  So, there are a lot of people whose job is just to enforce drug laws.  Not a huge number, but a lot.  But the money that comes from the legalized theft that is asset forfeiture and the money of law enforcement contractors (e.g., makers of drug tests, bullet proof vests, etc.) funds organized opposition to sensible reforms.


Short version:  The brutal side of the War on Drugs is a lucrative racket for many people who have also amassed a lot of power in the bureaucracy.  By contrast, normal citizens are a large group of unorganized people.


The Obama administration has to weigh (a) the chance that it gets undermined by its own law enforcement bureaucracy against (b) the fact that young people take the legalization issue VERY seriously and are motivated to show up at the polls for at and, most importantly, are consistent Democrats on net.

Wed, 11/14/2012 - 10:23am Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

In reply to by anonymous libe… (not verified)

It sounds good and if there was any choice on the legalisation,decriminalisation side it might be true but face it.There was no choice this time,last time or any time.We thought there was a choice in "08 and look how that turned out.Forfeiture is a scam that pays off too well for the people in power to ever give it up.How did we allow them this power?We never had a choice.Prison is the one growth industry in America.That and forced treatment which has a pathetic reputation but is "so much better than jail".Sure,and jail's better than hanging or having your hand cut off.How did we degenerate to choices like this?

Thu, 11/15/2012 - 2:26am Permalink
Mike Dar (not verified)

"Colorado also passed a legalization measure last week, Amendment 80. The state governor and attorney general spoke by phone with Attorney General Eric Holder last Friday, but got no clear indications of what the Justice Department will do."

Unfortunately, our govt does not react as if there is any moral or fairness driven need for clear indications.


Wed, 11/14/2012 - 9:22am Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

This is the very same governor who refused to implement past legislation on the excuse that the feds could put state employees in jail,yes?She has the mandate of her state but won't act unless the feds say it's OK.So what is the point of having a state vote in the first place?Perhaps because she knew that by refusing to act without federal approval would see her bounced from office?Here we have a governor who wants to have it both ways.She can seem sympathetic while refusing to do anything at all.Which is just fine with the HA's in BC because that's exactly where their bread is buttered.No,I am not claiming she is in league with the Angels.Far from it.

Thu, 11/15/2012 - 2:13am Permalink
Jeff Brown (not verified)

The people now understand that marijuana is the most useful plant on the planet. Food, clothing, shelter, energy, medicine, insight, re-creation .  The cat is not going back in the bag so the governments of the world who have been maintaining this conspiracy against the most useful plant on the planet need to free it once and for all. Once it is free for anyone to grow in any amount the criminal element will be eliminated because the cost will be on par with corn or beans.

Thu, 11/15/2012 - 1:54pm Permalink
mexweed (not verified)

In reply to by Jeff Brown (not verified)

I appreciate your positive view.  To your list of uses add CREATIVITY (for artists and inventors) and REFORESTATION (one of best PRECURSOR crops for tree planting!).

I agree that prices will fall-- or should fall-- and if for any reason they don't, it's up to us to lobby and pressure against any remaining conspiracy to monopolize or keep prices inflated.  The high price differential between cannabis ($200/oz) and $igarette tobacco (usually under $20 for 28 g = 2 PACks) contributes to worldwide (WHO est.) 6,000,000 deaths/year from $igarette addiction.

Would you be interested in having the Brownspliff Planting Program (just googly that for more info) named after you?  (Originally for the Brown that went down in UK and currently for the timid one in CA.)

Thu, 11/15/2012 - 9:38pm Permalink

The key point in Wash. is whether the operators of the state stores will be considered enforcement officers, i.e. police.  Presumably they'll have authority & responsibility to assure that unauthorized persons (i.e. those under age) don't get their cannabis.  That would make them officers enforcing the state law on a federally controlled substance -- which means they don't have to register with DEA to be allowed, under federal law, to possess, manufacture, or distribute the substance in question.  The feds could still bust the buyers and/or confiscate their purchase, but the sellers, as enforcement officers of the state, would be exempt.  So it all hinges on whether the state stores will be considered police agencies.  Probably they will.

Thu, 11/15/2012 - 1:57pm Permalink
kickback (not verified)

Weekly readers of this site should know that there is a case before the Federal Courts right now  to get the DEA to reschedule . Look it up . Expect a judgment that orders the DEA to reschedule around January . The DEA has no case . Period . The Governors should stop looking over their shoulders and serve the will of the people of their State . The ballot initiatives were not about the voters asking the Feds for permission . It was about informing State Government of a new will and new direction . The marijuana legalization trendline is obvious  even to the most disgruntled prohibitionists . You stand up and fight that " Big Green Tsunami " at your own risk .  Maybe there are people out there that had rather die than live in a society with legal marijuana .  You don`t drive a stake into the ground with determination and then ask for approval . Cannabis legalization is here and the Feds know it . What are they going to do ?  What are they doing about now ? Nothing ?

Fri, 11/16/2012 - 10:41pm Permalink

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