Donald Trump

Local Officials Respond to Federal Enforcement on Weed

Governor Jay Inslee said officials will "vigorously defend our state's laws" against federal enforcement.

By Hayat Norimine January 4, 2018

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U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions will rescind a policy from Barack Obama that discouraged federal enforcement on pot in states that legalized it, he announced Thursday morning.

But as pot businesses and users scramble to figure out what that really means for them, Washington state officials say they'll push back on Sessions's policy—expect a lawsuit from Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson, and local jurisdictions statewide likely won't be changing their enforcement policies on weed either. 

"Make no mistake: As we have told the Department of Justice ever since I-502 was passed in 2012, we will vigorously defend our state's laws against undue federal infringement," Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement Thursday morning.

Voters in 2012 approved Initiative 502, which legalized and regulated recreational marijuana, making Washington one of the first states to legalize and regulate recreational pot. (Colorado also approved its own initiative that year.) Six other states and D.C. have followed since.

State officials are also concerned about what Sessions's announcement means for the tax revenue it collects from the industry. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board collects a 37 percent marijuana excise tax; last year the state reported $1.37 billion in sales and collected $314.8 million, according to the board's marijuana report. 

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in a statement Thursday again said the city won't be bullied by Trump's administration, "which is obsessed with undoing progress that we've made on key issues, including legalization." She said the Seattle Police Department won't participate in any enforcement action against legal businesses or small personal possession of weed.

"Reversing course now is a misguided legal overreach and an attack on Seattle, the state of Washington, and a majority of states where the voters have made their voices heard loud and clear," Durkan said.

As a former Obama-era U.S. attorney, Durkan was involved in crafting DOJ policy in states that legalized marijuana. In 2011, she advised then-governor Christine Gregoire, a longtime confidant, not to legalize medical cannabis. Durkan was involved in prosecuting some pot dispensaries in Washington shortly before state voters legalized the substance.

Durkan and Holmes will hold a press conference to denounce the U.S. Department of Justice's decision Thursday morning.

Updated 12pm on January 4 to include sales and excise tax information.

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