OLYMPIA – Federal agents are unlikely to arrest state workers for regulating medical marijuana in Washington, despite warnings from two federal prosecutors, a constitutional law expert told Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday.
If they did, it might be the first time since America’s Civil War that state workers were personally prosecuted for doing a job required by a state statute, said Hugh Spitzer, a University of Washington law professor and one of the state’s top constitutional scholars.
In a letter to Gregoire, Spitzer said a warning from U.S. Attorneys Mike Ormsby of Spokane and Jenny Durkan of Seattle over the proposed medical marijuana law amounts to “inappropriate federal ‘bullying’ of our state … where this Washington is undertaking an approach that is not preferred by that Washington.”
Gregoire said Wednesday she may veto the bill, which passed the Legislature late last week, because of the warning from the two federal prosecutors that state employees involved in overseeing or licensing growers, processors or dispensaries could face prosecution under federal law.
“I won’t intentionally put state employees at risk,” she said Wednesday. “I don’t even know if I can implement the law.”
But Spitzer, in a letter released by the American Civil Liberties Union, argues the state needn’t worry about its employees facing personal prosecution. The dispute could end up in federal court, and if the state receives a court order to stop following state statutes, it could readily comply, Spitzer said.
“Washington’s governor should not stand in for the federal government to frustrate the will of Washington’s voters and a legislative policy decision favoring the type of regulatory control encompassed by (the bill),” Spitzer said.
In a separate letter, the ACLU also discounted any threat to state workers and urged Gregoire to sign the bill.
The governor said Wednesday she would like to sign the part of the bill that sets up a registry for medical marijuana patients, but wasn’t sure it could be separated from sections calling for the state Department of Agriculture to license medical marijuana growers and processors and for the Department of Health to regulate dispensaries.
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