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Monday, October 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Marijuana

Washington prepared for any federal action on legal pot, Ferguson says

In this Feb. 9, 2017, file photo, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks at a news conference in Seattle, Wash. The state’s top lawyer stepped into the breach multiple times over the past 12 months to challenge executive orders by President Trump; expect to see more of him in 2018. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
In this Feb. 9, 2017, file photo, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks at a news conference in Seattle, Wash. The state’s top lawyer stepped into the breach multiple times over the past 12 months to challenge executive orders by President Trump; expect to see more of him in 2018. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

OLYMPIA – Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson may never be confused for Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, but he seems to be telling the U.S. Justice Department to “go ahead, make my day” one more time.

His office already beat lawyers from the nascent Trump administration over the immigration ban executive border. Now it’s preparing for a fight over any federal attempt to pre-empt the state’s legal marijuana laws.

After the White House announced Thursday the Justice Department might take action against states with recreational marijuana, Ferguson said it was “impossible to predict” what actions the federal government might take in Washington, where businesses that grow, process and sell marijuana operate openly under state licenses. But he doesn’t think it was an idle threat.

“We’re preparing ourselves for all possibilities,” he said. “I take them at their word.”

That’s the same posture the state took in advance of the executive order after candidate Trump’s comments about a “Muslim ban” during the campaign. That meant the state was ready to file quickly for a court order to block it. That resulted in a temporary restraining order from a federal judge in Seattle halting the restrictions around the country, which Ferguson’s office successfully defended before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

While he wasn’t surprised about the White House’s statement on marijuana, “it would have been nice if they reached out to us first,” he said.

Ferguson and Gov. Jay Inslee wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions a week ago, asking for a meeting about marijuana policy. They haven’t received a reply yet, but Ferguson said that wasn’t surprising considering Sessions just took office.

In early 2013, Ferguson and Inslee met with then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder shortly after they took office and Washington voters had approved recreational marijuana.

“I made it clear at that time that I would defend the state of Washington,” he said. It’s the same message he hopes to give to Sessions at some future meeting.

Supporters of Washington’s ability to legalize marijuana sometimes cite the state’s rights provisions of the 10th Amendment, something that conservatives have long used to argue against overreach by the federal government. Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, said that while marijuana is just one area where federal regulations and state policy diverge, “it’s healthy to have this conversation because for decades the 10th Amendment was essentially ignored.”

Earlier in the week, the Trump administration came down on the other side of of the conflict between federal regulations and state policies on a different issue, saying states would be free to make their own rules regarding the use of public restrooms and other public facilities by transgender individuals.

Asked if he saw any irony in those two announcements just a day apart, Ferguson replied: “I think it speaks for itself.”

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