This Tuesday, Governor Inslee and Attorney General Ferguson will meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss the implementation of the state’s new marijuana regulations. According to Inslee’s communications director, David Postman, Inslee requested the meeting.
A good part of this news I’m enthusiastic about. Despite not being a supporter of I-502 during the campaign, Inslee appears to be keeping his word about supporting its implementation, part of which could involve some butting of heads with the Obama Administration. Inslee has a certain amount of leverage right now to get things started. He’s a Democratic governor in a state that just overwhelmingly voted to bring about this change.
Also, with Eric Holder staying on the job in Obama’s second term, it’ll be easier for Inslee to come to an understanding that won’t be swept under the rug by someone else coming in. Maybe I’m being too optimistic about that considering what happened with Obama’s promises regarding medical marijuana in his first term, but it’s worth noting that states that had more thorough statewide medical marijuana regulations (like Colorado, New Mexico, and New Jersey) didn’t have as much interference as states that didn’t (like California and Montana).
Regulated marijuana sales to all adults are certainly another level of defiance against federal prohibition, and the Obama Administration has yet to make any kind of statement about respecting statewide laws like I-502 that they previously did with medical marijuana laws (and then didn’t quite keep). But the country has transformed quite a bit since medical marijuana laws started becoming a reality in the 90s. When even the Drug Czar is forced to acknowledge the changed landscape, we’re in uncharted territory.
If Inslee and Ferguson can get a promise (even if it’s a private one) from Holder that they’ll respect the implementation of I-502, that’ll be an even more significant sign of how much things have changed. I-502 was set up with this in mind, including a number of provisions meant to placate the fears of feds (requiring facilities to be 1000 ft from schools and parks, FBI background checks for licensees, per se DUI language). That may be enough for the Administration to take that next leap.
But it may not. It’s also possible that Holder will dig in his heels for the drug war establishment and tell Inslee to put the brakes on I-502’s implementation or to expect enforcement actions or a lawsuit. I’d hope that Inslee would be able to explain how politically unwise this is, but it’s not clear where his thinking (or the Administration’s) is on all this. All of this is now happening in the shadow of the larger battle over gun control, and the optics of overriding a law like I-502 in the midst of that could make for some unusual alliances.
We’ll find out something on Tuesday, even if it’s just that the Administration is still not ready to commit to anything. As I’ve mentioned before, this may be the worst outcome, as it casts doubt over the ability of the WSLCB to start regulating this market without the participants later becoming criminals.