There’s been some big news regarding the medical marijuana bill that appeared ready to be signed into law this week:
The top federal prosecutors in Washington sent a stern warning to Washington State that a medical-marijuana law passed by the legislature this week, which would license dispensaries and growers, could result in a wave of criminal charges against cannabis providers and even state employees. At the same time, in a mixed message, they telegraphed that the Obama Administration’s policy of tacitly permitting states with medical marijuana laws would proceed.
“The Washington legislative proposals will create a licensing scheme that permits large-scale marijuana cultivation and distributions,” wrote US Attorneys Jenny Durkan and Michael Ormsby, respectively representing the Western and Eastern districts of Washington State, in a letter sent today to Governor Chris Gregoire. “This would authorize conduct contrary to federal law and thus, would undermine the federal government’s efforts to regulate the possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of controlled substances. Accordingly, the Department could consider civil and criminal legal remedies regarding those who set up marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries as they will be doing so in violation of federal law. … In addition, state employees who conducted activities mandated by the Washington legislative proposals would not be immune from liability…” including “criminal prosecution.”
Dominic’s take is that Gregoire sent this letter and received the predictable reply because she intends to veto the bill. There’s a good chance he’s right. Eli Sanders speculates even further:
Someone who works in Democratic politics floated this theory my way last night, and it makes sense: Gregoire is looking at the medical marijuana bill with an eye toward future confirmation hearings—her possible future confirmation hearings.
Think about it. No one expects Gregoire to run for governor again. Everyone knows she’s been brought up as a possible Team Obama member in the past. And, obviously, having signed a medical pot bill that can be seen as flouting federal law would be a liability during any upcoming D.C. confirmation process.
So it’s worth asking: In Gregoire’s political calculus, is it the Washington State medical marijuana bill vs. her future in Washington, D.C.?
The answer here is probably no, and here’s why. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico championed and signed a medical marijuana bill in 2007 that was groundbreaking in that it was the first to try to involve state agencies in the implementation. And this was at a time when the Bush Administration was still aggressively going after state medical marijuana laws. Here’s what Governor Richardson said:
“So what if it’s risky? It’s the right thing to do,” said Richardson, one of the candidates in the crowded 2008 field. “What we’re talking about is 160 people in deep pain. It only affects them.”
The legislation would create a program under which some patients – with a doctor’s recommendation – could use marijuana provided by the state health department. Lawmakers approved the bill Wednesday. The governor is expected to sign it in the next few weeks.
Despite this very bold flouting of federal law, Richardson was still chosen by Obama to be his Secretary of Commerce (although he later withdrew for reasons completely unrelated to the medical marijuana law). It may be hard for a lot of Democrats in this state to admit, but if Gregoire vetoes this bill because of an imagined conflict with federal law, it’s because she’s a shitty Governor. This bill is not much different from what Colorado already allows and what other states are already planning to implement.
UPDATE: The interesting irony here is that some of the most recent changes to the bill have been causing some medical marijuana advocates to call for the bill to be scrapped as well. The concerns are definitely over different areas though. Gregoire’s main concern is over the licensing of production and distribution, while the CDC is concerned with the extra power that a late amendment from Rep. Christopher Hurst has given to law enforcement to continue to search and arrest authorized patients. I’m not convinced the CDC’s concerns are bad enough to scrap the bill (I think some law enforcement folks will screw over some patients regardless of what the law says), but Gregoire’s concerns over the bill are far less grounded in reality.
Even sadder (or perhaps funnier, depending on your predisposition), folks like Steve Sarich – who’s been fighting this bill since the beginning of the session – would be the big winner if this bill gets scrapped. Sarich, as you’re probably familiar with, is the entrepreneur who holds clinics where a doctor comes in for a fee and authorizes patients (occasionally those patients are 19-year-olds who later try to rob Sarich in the middle of the night) and then supplies them with their “medicine”. This bill pretty clearly shuts down operations like that. That’s just one more of the problems that this bill was meant to solve that reappears if Gregoire takes out the veto pen.
UPDATE 2: While I was writing up this post, Dominic posted a follow-up that makes it clearer that Gregoire intends to veto the bill. Please call her office if you have time: 360-902-4111