It's natural to assume that the US Department of Justice is clamping down on drug enforcement when federal agents are suddenly raiding medical-marijuana dispensaries in Spokane and federal prosecutors are saying that state employees could be prosecuted for issuing licenses to marijuana dispensaries. Gregoire on Friday excused her veto of a state medical-marijuana bill—a measure to regulate dispensaries, license cultivation, and protect patients from arrest—by saying, "The landscape is changing."
I asked the DOJ's Seattle office if policies or practices for medical marijuana were different now—that is, different from a 2009 policy that says feds won't focus on people in "clear and unambiguous" compliance with state marijuana laws. Spokeswoman Emily Langlie pointed to statement last month from US Attorney Jenny Durkan, who said, "The position of the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington has not changed."
Similarly, the ACLU of Washington's Alison Holcomb says, "Until we start to see dispensary owners who are in compliance with state dispensary laws being arrested and prosecuted, it is baseless to claim that the landscape is changing."
What's up then—why the letter that says feds could prosecute state employees? "USA Attorneys Durkan and Ormsby responded to a request for information from Governor Gregoire," says Langlie. "But for a variety of reasons we cannot respond to questions about what enforcement acts we might or might not take under various hypotheticals. The statement makes clear that our priorities do not include prosecuting truly ill people or their doctors for using marijuana to lessen their suffering, as state law permits."
So what does it mean if the landscape is, in fact, remaining the same? The raids can continue—because Gregoire refused to bring the dispensaries within "clear and unambiguous" compliance with state law.