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Washington State Lawmakers Want a Wall Around Legal Marijuana

February 7, 2017
Seattle, USA - June 9, 2014: A police officer sitting in a cruiser on Pine street keeping watch at the famous Pike Place Market district mid day as a woman crosses the street.
Amid concerns that the Trump administration could stymie state-legal cannabis, Washington state lawmakers have quietly introduced bipartisan legislation that would protect the state’s system from federal intervention by barring local officials from cooperating with the feds.

It’s yet another sign of uncertainty as legal states wait to see how President Donald Trump and his Justice Department, likely to be led by Sen. Jeff Sessions, handle the ongoing conflict between state and federal law.


AG Nominee Sessions Headed to a Full Senate Vote

Many are concerned that Sessions, whose nomination for US attorney general is slated for a full Senate vote on Wednesday, could seek to undo state cannabis programs. In confirmation hearings, he dodged senators’ questions about whether he intends to follow Obama-era DOJ policies that served to protect legal state systems, saying only that he will “review and evaluate those policies.”

House Bill 1895, sponsored by state Reps. David Sawyer (D-Lakewood), Cary Condetta (R-Wenatchee), Brandon Vick (R-Vancouver), and David Taylor (R-Moxee), is an answer to that response. It would attempt to protect the state’s cannabis program from federal intervention by “prohibiting the use of public resources to assist the federal government in any activity that might impede or interfere with Washington state’s regulation of marijuana and marijuana-related products.” Public employees would be forbidden from using their on-the-clock time or state resources to aid a federal action “that might have the effect of impeding, obstructing, or otherwise interfering” with the state’s cannabis system.

Under the proposal, officials who aid the feds would face disciplinary action and could even lose their jobs.


Why Do the Feds Keep Targeting California?

While it’s generally not the role of local authorities to enforce federal law, it’s quite common for police and federal law enforcement to team up on investigations and enforcement actions. That’s been especially true when it comes to cannabis. In some cases, local governments trying to shutter unwanted cannabis businesses have called in the feds as backup. In 2011 and 2012, partly in response to such requests, US attorneys in California shuttered hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries across the state.

If passed, Washington’s bill would primarily benefit cannabis businesses, which have historically faced the brunt of federal enforcement efforts. While the DOJ could technically target patients—and has in the past—it has tended to focus on dispensaries and other larger-scale operations.

Nothing in the bill would prevent the feds themselves from going after state cannabis—nor could it keep the federal government from challenging the underlying legitimacy of state cannabis laws, which conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act.


Here’s How Congress Can Protect Cannabis From the Trump Administration

Some small efforts are already underway to provide more durable protections at the federal level. Congress in December extended the so-called Rohrabacher–Farr amendment, a spending provision that prevents federal prosecutors from using DOJ resources to prosecute state-legal medical cannabis. That extension expires in April. Last year the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the provision, swatting down a federal enforcement action against Oakland, California’s high-profile Harborside Health Center dispensary.

More broadly, congressional representatives have introduced a pair of bills that would reschedule cannabis to a Schedule II controlled substance and entirely de-schedule cannabidiol (CBD), cannabis’s primary non-intoxicating compound.

Members of Congress have also begun organizing to form a Cannabis Caucus aimed at expanding access to medical marijuana and supporting the ability of states to craft their own cannabis policies. The group is expected to step up its activity later this month.

Washington’s HB 1895, by is currently before the House Committee on State Government, Elections, and Information Technology. The bill’s full text is available online.

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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  • Thomy

    Just so everyone clearly understands, Jeff Sessions has long ago spoken and is totally against any form of legalized Cannabis. It was also clearly pointed out, long before the presidential election, that President Trump’s choice for U.S. Attorney General is and was Jeff Sessions. Trump and Sessions both have already proven, well beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they’re not a bit shy to drop an ink bomb. It is in my opinion, if you voted for Trump, you also voted for Jeff Sessions as the new U.S. Attorney General. It was certainly clear to me who Trump’s pick was well before the election. It will take, a very firm ( first time ) stance by the states, to refuse to assist if any raids suddenly start up again. I’m expecting the worse and hoping for the best. You voted Trump in, now you sleep with his decisions…….

    • Richard Lamb

      I completely agree with you. These are going to be dark times for legal weed. And I am deeply disappointed with that.

  • medcannabis1

    One possible option would be a program driven cannabis therapy model for our Veterans suffering from PTSD and toxic levels of prescription medications that could be put forward as a revolutionary transparent business model that puts compassion and care for the sick and dying first , then there may be hope to change Attorney General Secession’s mind about the role of cannabis therapy in communities that have chosen to end this old law from the 1930s.
    The tax revenue and electoral votes from the states that have moved beyond cannabis prohibition should cause any thinking political machine to now pay heed to the changing views on cannabis and the good people who use this therapy model.
    Veterans for Compassionate Care would be proud to put our team leadership and program model before the Trump administration as a pilot program of compassion

  • Excuse me

    If only Obama had defused this by encouraging cannabis to be rescheduled during his eight years.

    • Apothecary Labs

      Yup! Obama blew it! He could of done that, and by the time Tump hit the WH, it would have been too late.