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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Law prof: Feds bullying state on medical marijuana

OLYMPIA -- Federal agents are unlikely to arrest state workers for regulating medical marijuana, despite warnings from two federal prosecutors, a constitutional law expert told Gov. Chris Gregoire Thursday.

Hugh Spitzer, a University of Washington law professor and one of the state's top constitutional scholars, said a warning to the state from U.S. Attorneys Mike Ormsby of Spokane and Jenny Durkan of Seattle over the proposed medical marijuana law amounts to "inappopriate federal 'bulllying' of our state  in connection with a controversial policy issue 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 Ormsby and Durkan that state employees involved in overseeing or licensing growers, processors or dispensaries could face prosectution.

"I won’t intentionally put state employees at risk,” she said Wednesday. “I don't even know if I can implement the law.” (Read the rest of that post here.)

But Spitzer argues the state needn't worry. State workers haven't been prosecuted for carrying out a law that conflicts with federal law since the Civil War, he said. Even during the Civil Rights struggles, when state and local offiicals were enforcing local laws that conflicted with federal laws, they weren't prosecuted. 

It is possible the conflict could end up in federal court, and a federal judge could issue a cease and desist order against the state statutes. In that case, the state would 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. "I respectfully urge you to sign E2SSB 5073."



Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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