Spin Control

MONDAY, MAY 9, 2011, 5:48 P.M.

AG on medical marijuana: Feds have spoken

OLYMPIA -- Federal prosecutors may mean what they say about charging state employees who oversee medical marijuana operations, a state lawyer told legislators looking for direction on finding a law that can navigate the controversy.

Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Even told legislators he can't predict the risk of federal prosecution to state employees after U.S. Attorneys Mike Ormsby and Jenny Durkan raised concerns about sections of a medical marijuana law. Federal drug laws preempt state laws in most cases, he  said, so it's not possible to assume that a bill directing state workers to license and regulate the growing and sale of medical marijuana would be immune from prosecution if that bill became law.

A group of 14 House members asked last week for Attorney General Rob McKenna's opinion about the conflict between state and federal drug laws after Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed much of the medical marijuana bill. The response they got today was "a non-response," said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, the drafter of the letter.

"I want to know what the attorney general's opinion is to providing safe acess to patients. His response is an effort to evade the issue," Goodman said.

Even wrote that the state attorney general's office doesn't normally interpret federal law, but federal prosecutors "have already stated the position of the United States with respect to this issue."

Ormsby and Durking did that in April, in a letter to Gregoire that the governor used as a reason for vetoing much of the medical marijuana bill that passed the Legislature with bipartisan support.

Even said he couldn't predict whether there would be prosecutions: "This office has no control over the (federal Controlled Substance Act) and cannot meaningfully predict what the United States may or may not do in that respect." 

Goodman said Monday he believes prosecutions are unlikely and that the Justice Department would seek a court order barring enforcement of a state law regulating medical marijuana. But that law isn't likely to emerge any time soon.

"We're not going to be able to override the governor's veto," Goodman said, and crafting a new bill on growing operations and dispensaries is unlikely in the special session which will be half over on Tuesday. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, has a proposal that would help clarify rules for patients using cooperatives, he said, but currently lacks agreement from the leaders of both parties in both chambers to introduce it.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden is the Olympia bureau chief, covering the Legislature and state government. He also is a political columnist and blogger for Spin Control.

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