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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Inslee, Ferguson to Sessions: You’re wrong about Washington’s pot system

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, left, talks to reporters as Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson looks on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, left, talks to reporters as Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson looks on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – In measured but firm text, two top Washington officials told the nation’s top law enforcement officer he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to the state’s legal marijuana business.

Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson responded Tuesday to last month’s letter from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that suggested the federal government could, if it chose, enforce federal laws against marijuana even though the state has made its regulated production, sale and use legal. Sessions cited a series of statistics from a 2016 report on drug trafficking in the Northwest.

By relying on a report that is more than a year old, Sessions ignored important developments in state law regarding medical marijuana, they said. He also blended information about illegal activity with the state’s legal businesses.

One such example was a statistic from the report that listed 17 explosions in marijuana extraction labs, they said.

“Your letter, however, fails to clearly acknowledge that none of these explosions were at labs operating legally under state license,” their response said. Licensed labs must have engineer certified equipment an be inspected by the fire marshal. To date, “no legal extraction lab has ever had an explosion,” they said.

Since 2013, the federal government has stressed that states that have legalized marijuana must ensure that it does not get sent to other states. Sessions quoted a portion of the 2016 report that said Washington marijuana had been diverted to 43 other states. But Inslee and Ferguson pointed out those figures involve activity that goes back before recreational marijuana became legal and doesn’t say whether the drugs in question were grown legally or illegally.

“If the federal government has information it can share as to the sources of Washington marijuana being found outside our state, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss how we might be able to cooperate in controlling such sources,” they wrote.

They also suggested Sessions read the 2017 version of the report, with more current information.

Sessions also seems to have misread a statistic in the report and suggested the percentage of drivers who don’t believe marijuana makes a difference in their driving ability is almost 10 times higher than the report said. Statistics for the number of marijuana DUIs are also distorted because the state changed the way it tested when marijuana was legalized, making those blood tests more common. “Consequently, comparable statistics do not exist,” they said. 

Inslee and Ferguson said they have twice asked to meet with Sessions in person to talk about marijuana enforcement. What they got back was his letter, which they said had other conclusions with which they disagree. 

Rather than go through them in detail, they again suggested a meeting with Sessions and other Justice Department officials to talk about a wide range of issues regarding marijuana.

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.