In April 2011 — right when Senate Bill 5073 was about to be passed into law by then-Washington Governor Christine Gregoire — US Attorneys Jenny Durkan (Western District of Washington) and Michael C. Ormsby (Eastern District of Washington) sent Governor Gregoire a “Dear John” letter. Senate Bill 5073 is that infamous piece of legislation that gave the cannabis community the perpetually vague collective garden law.
But Senate Bill 5073 (now RCW 69.51A) wasn’t always such a train wreck. In fact, at one point, like I-502, it provided the state and the MMJ community with a comprehensive regulatory scheme that would have brought order to the cannabis business and legal world. Nonetheless, the US Attorneys made clear in their letter that if Governor Gregoire passed the Senate Bill into law, Washington State employees could expect criminal prosecution for helping to establish such MMJ operations. It does bear noting though that despite this routine Federal threat, there is absolutely no record of any Federal prosecution of either state or municipal employees for implementing cannabis regulatory programs in any state.
Nonetheless, Governor Gregoire got cold feet and whipped out her veto pen, essentially gutting Senate Bill 5073. Governor Gregoire’s veto has wreaked havoc on those trying to operate any sort of marijuana business in Washington and for we cannabis lawyers left to figure out how they should do so. Now, many are wondering what Jay Inslee, Washington’s new Governor-elect will do with implementing the new cannabis laws?
Based on a recent press release from the Governor elect’s office, it appears that things are looking up for marijuana business laws in Washington:
My belief is Washington has worked its will. The voters have spoken. I was not supportive of the initiative but I’m going to be fully supportive of protecting, defending, and implementing the will of the voter—which will essentially allow the use of recreational marijuana in our state.
Though it is encouraging to know that the new Governor of Washington plans to adhere to the will of the people, the key question is how the state government will handle likely opposition from the Feds on I-502. Governor-elect Inslee addressed this scenario by publicly relaying that he will be working towards “rational, mature ways to convince the [Obama] administration that it’s in the best interest, not only of our state, but in our country, to allow our state to move forward in this regard.” The new Governor has made clear why he believes the new cannabis laws should be implemented:
I believe [the execution of I-502] makes sense for the country for this reason: We have a principal of federalism in our country that has worked well. We’ve allowed states to be incubators of new ideas … and I think it’ll serve the nation well to allow the state of Washington and Colorado to serve as incubators of a new policy. And I don’t think there’s any reason that that’s antithetical to national security or interstate commerce.
Governor-elect Inslee went on to advocate for each state being able to regulate marijuana within its own state lines as it sees fit: “This is a local decision of a local state, and we’re going to do everything we can in this administration in that regard and hopefully that’ll happen. I think there’s some positive signs that we’ll be able to prevail.” We obviously are looking forward to seeing the results of this “opening up” policy.