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Sessions raises concerns over Washington’s pot legalization

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 4, 2017, 10:10 p.m.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks at a news conference in Seattle on Feb. 9, 2017. The AG says Washington has filed or been part of 26 legal challenges to the federal government this year, many of them to make President Donald Trump “accountable to the rule of law.” (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks at a news conference in Seattle on Feb. 9, 2017. The AG says Washington has filed or been part of 26 legal challenges to the federal government this year, many of them to make President Donald Trump “accountable to the rule of law.” (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson says he’s disappointed with a letter from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the state’s efforts to regulate marijuana.

In a letter dated July 24 originally obtained by the Huffington Post, Sessions pointed out to Ferguson and Gov. Jay Inslee that a 2013 Justice Department memo that was interpreted as clearing the way for states to regulate marijuana did not preclude federal prosecution.

“The memorandum ‘does not alter in any way the Department’s authority to enforce federal law, including federal laws relating to marijuana, regardless of state law,’” Sessions wrote, directly quoting the so-called Cole memo that Washington’s legal market has used as a tacit understanding federal authorities would not shut down their operations.

Sessions also highlighted a 2016 report from a federally funded drug enforcement organization that raised questions about how effectively the state is controlling the industry. That report included data provided by the police departments in Spokane and Spokane Valley, including details of a 2014 explosion at a north Spokane apartment complex resulting from a process to extract the psychoactive element from marijuana. Spokane Valley also reported that in 2014, 64 percent of citations for driving under the influence of marijuana involved minors.

Sessions asked Ferguson and Inslee to provide information about how they’re addressing the issues raised in the report.

Sessions’ letter came in response to multiple requests from Inslee and Ferguson requesting a sit-down with the attorney general, whose stated aversion to marijuana has been of keen interest to an industry that generated $1.3 billion in revenue during a 12-month period that ended in June.

In a written statement Friday, Ferguson said the U.S. attorney general’s letter relies on “incomplete, inaccurate and out-of-date information” about Washington’s marijuana regulations. He added that “any action from the Department of Justice short of allowing our well-regulated, voter-approved system to continue is unacceptable.”

Inslee said in a statement also issued Friday that Washington would respond to Sessions’ concerns “in the coming days.” The governor said one of the main obstacles in the state’s legal market remained the federal government’s classification of marijuana as illegal under any circumstances.

“This determination affects all aspects of our state systems, from banking to research to consumer safety,” Inslee said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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