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December 19, 2012 at 12:42 PM
A national drug-reform group that helped fund Initiative 502 is taking out a full-page ad in Thursday’s New York Times to thank Washington and Colorado voters for having “performed a national service.”
The ad by the Drug Policy Alliance also thanks former President Clinton, evangelist Pat Robertson and the presidents of Columbia, Guatemala and Uruguay for making statements that support the group’s call to change U.S. drug laws. A political arm of Drug Policy Alliance donated $1.6 million to I-502, more than a quarter of the campaign’s total fundraising.
In a statement, Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann called 2012 the “best year ever” for drug reform.
“Voters in Washington and Colorado did more than just make history last month by voting to end their states’ marijuana prohibition laws and attempt instead to regulate marijuana as a legal commodity. They performed a national service by catapulting the national conversation about drug policy to a new level of urgency and political significance.”
Washington’s new law took effect Dec. 6, de-criminalizing possession of one ounce of marijuana. Rules for a regulated and taxed recreational marijuana market — with licensed growers, retailers and food processors — are being worked on now. The state Liquor Control Board is taking public comments on the marijuana producer license through February.
December 5, 2012 at 3:05 PM
A strange gap year in Washington’s grand experiment with marijuana legalization begins Thursday, when personal possession of pot becomes legal, but criminal laws banning marijuana growing and sales remain in effect.
That year gives the state Liquor Control Board time to create first-in-the-nation licenses for marijuana growers, processors and retailers. Until then, the only clearly legal way — at least, under state law — is for a medical marijuana patient to get medicine from a collective garden.
Jenny Durkan, the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, sent out a statement Wednesday that regardless of legalization measures in Washington and Colorado, the federal ban on marijuana remains unchanged. But the statement did not come with any legal action by the U.S. Department of Justice to block the new law from taking effect on Thursday.
The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington state. The Department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. Neither States nor the Executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance.
Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6th in Washington state, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses.
At a morning news conference, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes acknowledged that Washington is in uncharted waters.
“We are trying to substitute a legal, licensed system for what is nearly a wholly illegal system. That is going to take time. What we’re doing under I-502, beginning at midnight, we’re at least not doing any more harm. We’re not enforcing an extremely unpopular law against adults who choose to consume marijuana. But unless they are an authorized medical marijuana patient, they are already obtaining marijuana from illegal sources. Washington state is awash, as are most states, in marijuana, which is one of the points about what prohibition has failed in its purpose.”
A public celebration of the new law is planned at Seattle Center, beginning at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Holmes reminded party-goers that public consumption of marijuana is now treated like alcohol, equivalent to about a $50 fine.
Holmes stopped enforcing marijuana possession cases when he took office, but he said Thursday he would enforce public consumption fines, should Seattle police issue them.
“I think the SPD will see how well people comply. If there’s unfortunate flaunting, and (people) want to test and see if the law will be enforced, well, I have better things to do with my time than to test the limits of the law. But we will enforce the law.”
December 3, 2012 at 1:12 PM
The voter-approved marijuana measures in Washington and Colorado are pulling marijuana out of the black market. So how big is that market?
I mentioned it was potentially a billion-dollar industry in Washington alone in a Seattle Times story this Sunday about marijuana-industry investors. That was based on a state Office of Financial Management estimate before the November election, which used federal use surveys, plus the per-gram price at local medical marijuana dispensaries, and came up with a potential $1 billion market.
That’s also what Jon Gettman, a Virginia-based marijuana researcher, came up with in 2006. If so, that puts marijuana just behind apples - and just ahead of milk and wheat - as the No. 2 agricultural commodity in Washington.
The Medical Marijuana Business Daily, an industry new service, used the OFM analysis and projected it out nationwide. The result: a market potentially worth more than $46 billion. An eye-popping number.
But these projections, of course, depend on the federal government taking a laissez-faire approach to state legalization measures. The OFM analysis – here in dense detail, here in a summary – has a big fat caveat that legalization could be worth zero dollars, or $1 billion. No word out of Washington D.C. about the potential response to the two states’ new laws.
November 30, 2012 at 1:54 PM
The Washington State Liquor Control Board says it needs to hire 40 additional staff and bring an outside expert in marijuana to implement the voter-approved marijuana legalization measure.
In a briefing to a Senate committee in Olympia on Friday, LCB director Pat Kohler said the biggest challenge of setting up a regulated marijuana market was “understanding the product and the industry itself.”
“There’s a lot of people who think they have a lot of experience in this area,” joked Rick Garza, Kohler’s deputy.
The LCB is taking the lead in creating rules for state-licensed marijuana stores, growers and processors called for in Initiative 502, which passed 56-44 on Nov. 6. Friday’s hearing was the first chance for lawmakers to ask questions about the historic measure.
Kohler estimated there could be 328 stores – the same number of liquor stores under the now-defunct state liquor monopoly – but her staff needed to better understand potential customer demand, among other things. A state fiscal analysis predicted that 363,000 state residents would buy from the state stores, based on federal use surveys.
She said the LCB is preparing a bid for a consultant with expertise in the marijuana industry to advise LCB staff during the one-year rule-making process before licenses would begin being issued in December, 2013. That year “gives us a bit more time to be thoughtful to implement something that has never been implemented in the nation,” she said.
The 40 new staffers would be paid for out of existing funds, and would primarily go to hire enforcement officers, she said.
Sen. Adam Kline, a Seattle Democrat who supported the ballot measure, urged Kohler’s staff to work with “deliberate speed.” As of Dec. 6, one ounce of marijuana is legal to possess, but only state-licensed stores can sell it. That gives drug dealers a year to “entrench themselves,” said Kline.
“The more time it goes on, the more we’re asking for trouble,” he said.
Alison Holcomb, the lead author and campaign manager for Initiative 502, said there has been a “unregulated marijuana market for 100 years,” and that giving the LCB a year to create rules for a regulated market is wise.
November 20, 2012 at 10:04 AM
A leading group of reform-minded law enforcement officials delivered a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder this morning asking him to respect the voters of Washington and Colorado who decided to legalize marijuana.
The Law Enforcement Against Prohibition letter was signed by 73 current and former police officers, judges, prosecutors and federal agents, including former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper. It adds to a similar request by Govs. Chris Gregoire of Washington and John Hickenlooper of Colorado, as well as 17 members of Congress, including Rep. Adam Smith, in asking Holder and the DEA to respect the new state laws.
The LEAP letter — also signed by four other ex-law enforcement officials in Washington State — frames an argument against intervention as a courageous moral good, invoking John Locke, the racially disproportionate arrest rates for drugs and the author of the Wickersham Commission, which led to the end of prohibition. It reads, in part:
At every crucial moment in history, there comes a time when those who derive their power from the public trust forge a new path by disavowing their expected function in the name of the greater good. This is your moment.
November 14, 2012 at 11:05 AM
November 9, 2012 at 1:51 PM
UPDATE 3:03 p.m. King and Pierce County prosecutors are dismissing more than 220 misdemeanor marijuana cases in response to Tuesday’s vote to decriminalize small amounts of pot.
In King County, 175 cases are being dismissed involving people 21 and older and possession of one ounce or less. I-502 makes one ounce of marijuana legal on Dec. 6, but King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg decided to apply I-502 retroactively.
“Although the effective date of I-502 is not until December 6, there is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month,” Satterberg said in a statement.
The dismissed cases involved arrests in unincorporated King County, as well as the state highways and the University of Washington. About 40 of the cases had already been filed in court as criminal charges; those charges will be dismissed. Another 135 cases were pending charging decisions and will simply be returned to the arresting police agency.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said he was dismissing “about four dozen” pending cases where misdemeanor marijuana was the only offense. He said his staff was continuing to prosecute other cases where possession was secondary to a more serious charge, such as drunken driving.
“The people have spoken through this initiative,” said Lindquist. “And as a practical matter, I don’t think you could sell a simple marijuana case to a jury after this initiative passed.”
In an interview, Satterberg said his office would continue to prosecute marijuana possession above one ounce, allowing for “a buffer for those whose scales are less than accurate.” His office also charges felony possession — for people with more than 40 grams — although he said his staff routinely allows those defendants to plead down to a misdemeanor.
“I think when the people voted to change the policy, they weren’t focused on when the effective date of the new policy would be. They spoke loudly and clearly that we should not treat small amounts of marijuana as an offense,” he said.
I-502 campaign manager Alison Holcomb said she was “incredibly moved” by Satterberg’s announcement, which she said showed “incredible courage.”
The decision supports a prime argument I-502 made during the campaign. A study by a group of academics found there had been 241,000 misdemeanor marijuana possession cases in Washington over the past 25 years, 67,000 of them in the past five years. “If 502 hadn’t passed, we’d see the same amount of marijuana possession cases every year,” she said. “What makes a difference is changing the law.”
Satterberg is the first prosecutor to change charging policy after I-502, but other prosecutors are also considering these cases. Tom McBride of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys said his office “just starting to work through those issues.”
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has refused to prosecute misdemeanor possession cases since he took office.
Earlier this week, the chief criminal deputy prosecutor in Spokane County, Jack Driscoll, appeared to take a more conservative position. He told the Spokesman-Review that, even after Dec. 6, the only marijuana which was legal to possess was pot sold in the state-licensed stores called for in I-502. Those stores won’t be created for at least a year.
“The only thing that is legal is selling marijuana through those stores,” Driscoll said. “That will be regulated by the state. You can’t under this initiative have an ounce of marijuana that doesn’t come from a state-issued provider. You still can’t have black-market marijuana.”
Holcomb disputed that interpretation. So did Satterberg, who called it a “very narrow reading” of the initiative. “I don’t know how you trace where (the marijuana) comes from,” he said.
Satterberg said he expected federal authorities to seek an injunction to block implementation of I-502′s state licensing scheme for marijuana retailers and growers. “I think it’s the kind of issue the U.S. Supreme Court will have a final word on,” said Satterberg, calling it an “an important state’s rights issue.”
But he does not expect a federal lawsuit to target the types of cases he is dismissing, noting that states already have widely divergent penalties for marijuana possession.
November 8, 2012 at 5:10 PM
Gov. Chris Gregoire has not reached out to the Justice Department for clarity on the federal response to marijuana legalization, and does not plan to join Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has a call scheduled Friday afternoon with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to talk about the legalization measure his state passed.
Gregoire’s staff, along with the state attorney general and the Liquor Control Board, is instead planning to meet internally first regarding Initiative 502, said her spokesman, Cory Curtis. “We obviously have to have the conversation” with the Justice Department, said Curtis. “There’s this cloud hanging over it, no pun intended.”
Although Washington voted to legalize small amounts of marijuana beginning Dec. 6, pot remains illegal under federal law.
Curtis said contact with the Justice Department will likely begin through the state attorney general and the Liquor Control Board, which is the lead agency in setting up I-502′s state-licensed marijuana stores. AG spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie said the agencies have not met to game-plan for I-502.
Hickenlooper, who opposed Colorado’s Amendment 64, cautioned voters after election day to not “break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly” because of the federal threat, and the Colorado attorney general said the Justice Department should make its intentions clear quickly.
Colorado’s measure calls on the state Legislature to set rules for their state-licensed marijuana stores, which would not open for at least a year.
The process to set those rules in Washington will also take at least a year, and Gregoire also hopes for clarity. “Our big concern is that we not move down the road with money and time on rule-making if they are going to stop the process,” said Curtis.
November 8, 2012 at 4:24 PM
Alison Holcomb, the campaign manager and prime architect of Initiative 502, and Seattle Times reporter Jonathan Martin held a chat Friday about the logistics and consequences of Tuesday’s vote to legalize marijuana.
November 7, 2012 at 10:16 AM
UPDATE 11:02 a.m. Justice Department headquarters issued an identical statement to Durkan’s this morning, indicating that Washington D.C., not Washington’s two U.S. Attorneys, will be dictating what comes next.
ORIGINAL POST: U.S. Attorney for Seattle Jenny Durkan’s office released a terse statement this morning in response to passage of Initiative 502, legalizing recreational marijuana use. Durkan is out of the area, said spokesperson Emily Langlie, and is not available to answer questions about the conflict between the federal marijuana ban and state de-criminalization of marijuana possession (as of Dec. 6). Langlie said this is all Durkan’s office has “for now.”
The Department of Justice’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. The Department is reviewing the ballot initiative here and in other states and has no additional comment at this time.
On election night, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said he’d spoken to Durkan on Tuesday and was assured — but not guaranteed — that the federal government “has no plans, except to talk.”
Holmes has said he believes the Justice Department will be reassured by the I-502′s tight regulatory control – no home-grows, sales of no more than an ounce, a ban on sales to people under 21, etc. – and will decided not sue.
“We’re having really good conversations, but no promises,” Holmes said Tuesday night.
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