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Washington AG: We’re ‘Prepared’ for Legal Fight With Jeff Sessions

February 2, 2018
(Elaine Thompson/AP)
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson hasn’t been shy about the fact he’s willing to defend the state’s legal cannabis system from federal interference. He doubled down on that pledge this week, confirming in an interview that his office is prepared to take legal action if the Justice Department goes after Washington’s state-legal industry.

“We are—and have been, really, for a long time—prepared if there needs to be a legal fight on the future of marijuana legalization in Washington state,” Ferguson said Wednesday in an interview with the editorial board for The Columbian newspaper. “We hope it doesn’t come to that, but we’ve always felt that way.”


Washington State Officials Vow to Fight Any Federal Crackdown

When asked what could trigger such action, Ferguson said he was keeping an eye out for federal efforts to shutter a state-compliant business or seize its assets:

Hypothetically speaking, right, there could be a business that’s licensed in Washington state selling marijuana that’s following state law. Let’s assume they’re following state law to a T—that’s important—and the feds go in and try to shut that business down, they seize the marijuana or the proceeds. If in my view, we’ve got a legitimate business, playing by our rules here in Washington state and the federal government comes in to try to shut that down, we’d be interested in that. Or any step that’s taken to adversely impact the system as a state that we have going forward, that would be something we’d play close attention to.

He stressed that his office would evaluate potential actions on a case-by-case basis. “I don’t want to absolutely commit to any course of action—each situation can be factually different—but in general if there were a threat to our industry, that would have our attention,” he said.

Ferguson added he and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee have made multiple requests to meet personally with US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss cannabis policy since he took office last year. “He’s not granted any of those,” Ferguson said. “In contrast, [former] US Attorney General Eric Holder [and I] had a meeting within two weeks of when I took office” to talk cannabis policy.

On Jan. 4 of this year, Sessions removed a Holder-era Justice Department guideline, known as the Cole memo, that set a policy of noninterference in states that legalized cannabis. “It gave what I thought were helpful guidelines, priorities that the federal government had for Washington and Colorado as we set up our systems: Make sure kids don’t get their hands on marijuana, make sure marijuana’s not getting beyond state borders,” Ferguson said, adding: “Hey, we agree with those!”

But Sessions seems intent on making a case against legal cannabis. In a letter to Ferguson and the governor, Sessions attacked the state’s system, citing a 2016 law enforcement report that he said “raises serious issues about the efficiency of marijuana ‘regulatory structures’ in your state.”


Sessions Attacks Washington’s Cannabis Laws in Letter to Governor

In the Columbian interview, Ferguson called that letter an embarrassment, saying it was “riddled with factual mistakes”:

He sent a letter to myself and the governor a few months ago, a long letter but which, as you know, was riddled with factual mistakes. There’s no way to sugar coat that, right? He relied on a report from a couple of years ago. I think the first thing he accused us of was not having a system that had combined our medical and recreational marijuana systems together, relying on that old report—but, of course, since that report came out, we had!

To me that’s embarrassing that the US attorney general, on an issue of that importance, is writing a letter to a governor and attorney general of another state and he’s just got his facts wrong. That’s a problem, I think. I think this is a problem in trying to move forward on these issues.

There’s evidence Ferguson’s office is already preparing a case in response to Sessions’ rollback of the Cole memo. Last week, the state AG’s office reached out to licensed members of the state’s cannabis industry in an effort to identify businesses that had been negatively impacted by the move.


Jeff Sessions Giving You Trouble? Washington State AG Wants to Know

“Has a bank stopped working with them, for example, no longer taking the proceeds from their sales?” Ferguson explained in the interview. “We’re interested if there’s [been] any adverse impacts from that decision on any businesses out there, and if there have, we’re interested in hearing from them.”

Asked if any affected businesses had reached out, Ferguson replied that he hadn’t received a “complete account” from his office.

Ferguson didn’t give much detail on legal strategies his office might employ in any potential lawsuits, saying only that the fight could center on “whether federal law preempts state law when it comes to marijuana.”

“There could be a legal fight along those lines,” he said. “We think we have good arguments.”

Ben Adlin's Bio Image

Ben Adlin

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor who specializes in cannabis politics and law. He was a news editor for Leafly from 2015-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin

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  • Jim S

    I wish this government would do the work that’s need for the state and stop distracting us with federal politics. Deflecting the issues we have by focusing on possible problems in DC is great sleight of hand, but does little for the citizens of Washington State. We deserve so much better, time to kick these idiots out!

    • 360dunk

      Jim if you were smart enough to figure this out, you would see that Ferguson is definitely doing what’s best for Washington State. Wake up and look at the scorecard. Look at all the tax revenue windfall that’s benefiting public schools in Colorado, Nevada, and all the other legal states. Where would that money go without state involvement? To the drug cartels and a few wealthy smuggling rings, of course. If we go back to the black market industry, we’re robbing Peter (cities and states) to pay Paul (Sinaloa drug cartel).

      Yes, we deserve better and that’s to put a muzzle on backwards fools like Jeff Sessions while encouraging a more sensible approach to law enforcement. Ferguson’s doing the right thing by standing up to federal bullies and he deserves to be praised for his efforts.

      • Ted

        LOLOL…how typical…a pot head trying to plead for leniency towards pot…Umm Proven fact…crime has gone UP, where pot has been legalized…not down like you pot heads tried to say.

        oh yeah…lets pay for schools with drug money…just how far up your ass is your head???

        We do deserve better…Ferguson needs to be run out of office…he’s a drama queen asswipe.

  • Ted

    Of course this asshole will fight the Feds. He’s trying to make a name for himself. Instead he should be doing the work he’s getting paid to do.

    • 360dunk

      He’s fighting the feds because it affects his state law, obviously. And interpreting how state and federal law co-exist IS part of what ‘he’s getting paid to do’. You seem to be a short-sighted buffoon, Ted.

      • Ted

        horse shit…he’s fighting it, just like the immigration BS…so he can get his name out there…he’s a drama queen, looking to advance his name in leftist politics. And you’re a partisan hack defending that BS, but then you’re probably a pot shack owner or a pot head…good luck with that.. Pot is illegal nationwide federally, the fact he doesn’t get it says everything about him.

        • james carrington

          ted the troll, goes to leafly, just to tell everyone this plant is evil
          pull your head out, then go away ted!

        • james carrington

          our constitution, that the federal government is founded upon, says that states have the right to decide & that the federal government only has limited powers which are enumerated & do not include control over cannabis

          • Ted

            educate your self moron…You are dumber than dirt. Federal law pre-empts state laws. State law exists only when it does not conflict with federal law.

            The law in the constitution that applies to situations where state and federal laws disagree is called the SUPREMACY CLAUSE, which is part of ARTICLE VI of the United States Constitution. The SUPREMACY CLAUSE contains what’s known as the ‘Doctrine Of Pre-emption’. Which to condense it down, says that the federal government wins in the case of any conflicting legislation.

            So shove that and all the rest of the crap you’re trying to peddle as an arrogant blowhard, right where the sun doesn’t shine you dumbass.

          • Nicole Hauler

            STFU TED!!!! Quit trolling LEAFLY!!🙄😂😂🙄

          • Ted

            GFY…I can post here, just like you dumbass. You just don’t like the real answers you’re reading…but it’s the truth.

          • Nicole Hauler

            I’m sorry your so angry,and have to resort to namecalling like a grade schooler.✌✌✌😡😖😒🐴🌱🌿👌👌👌💨💨💨

        • james carrington

          you should leave the usa, since you do not believe in the right to the pursuit of happiness, for EVERY person
          (read our founding document, then go away!)

          • Ted

            you should gfy, and then blow away like a leaf.

        • 360dunk

          I’m sure he ‘gets it’ that cannabis is illegal on the federal level….doesn’t everyone? But just because it’s illegal doesn’t mean it should be. He’s arguing for our freedom of choice, just like any smart politician would. Matter of fact, just like those who opposed prohibition in the 1930’s did.

      • james carrington

        ted thinks federal law ‘trumps’ state law, but as the article points out that is a losing argument if they ever try to use it in court, as federal powers are enumerated & do not include control over this plant (the commerce clause would get thrown out, if need be)

        • Ted

          the commerce clause has nothing to do with it dumbass. educate yourself.

  • Normal informed people are just not buying into the “Sessions”, cave man approach anymore. Stop it, already. It’s a plant and it’s good for you. The people are getting tired of this crap from the Feds.

  • Bill P

    Don’t get it. Pot good and guns bad.

  • Etidorhpa

    Seattle is a pot hole and this idiot helped and continues to make it so.

    • 360dunk

      Editorpha, perhaps you’re the idiot since the cannabis industry is thriving in Seattle and bringing in tons of tax revenue. Little sheep like you obediently accept your leader’s opinions, no matter how misguided they are. Jeff Sessions is a blind fool on an island by himself when it comes to marijuana. Why don’t you sail to that island so you can be with your pathetic leader?

    • Auryan

      So then, are 98% of the counties in America Alcoholic Swamps as well???? Just following your logic expansively.

  • bonnie king

    Mr. Sessions is undoubtedly friends with those in high financial places, such as tobacco and big pharma companies.
    Also, please do your homework concerning privatization of All water. It will hurt everyone from farmers, including you guys , to what was once public water. Check Oregon’s water bill, which is about to pass. You guys in Oregon should be very concerned. This will include wells being monitored. It’s all over the country , without public knowledge. It’s vital that the word is spread. It involves Nestles CEO and POM drinks CEO. Greedy sociopaths. This is vital. It is NOT in the public interest. The CEO of nestle stated that “people should not own water”. It should be corporate. They are already stealing water in California, where I live. God help us, we will all be in trouble.