Washington state leaders slam federal decision on legal pot

Washington state leaders slam federal decision on legal pot

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington state leaders slammed the Trump administration’s move Thursday to roll back Obama-era leniency on legalized marijuana, saying they’ll defend the will of state voters who approved recreational pot and the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue that comes with it.

“We should, in my book, not push the panic button on either your individual lives or your businesses,” Gov. Jay Inslee said hours after the Justice Department announced the rollback.

The move by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would let federal prosecutors in states where marijuana is legal decide how aggressively to enforce the longstanding federal law against it.

Washington is one of eight states that allow recreational marijuana. It’s also among the majority of U.S. states that have legalized medical marijuana.

In fiscal 2017, legal pot sales in Washington state exceeded $1.3 billion and the state collected more than $300 million in excise taxes, according to the state Liquor Control Board.

Halfway through the current fiscal year, pot sales have topped $500 million and generated more than $100 million in taxes.

Democratic and Republican state leaders vowed to protect pot sales, saying Washington state has come to rely on money from marijuana taxes.

Republican Sen. Ann Rivers of La Center said she didn’t personally support the legalization initiative but it has been a responsible program that essentially eradicated the black market. She said the state uses the tax money to fund efforts involving education, mental health, homelessness and opioid addiction.

“The money is going everywhere and rightly or wrongly, we need that money to take care of the people in our state,” Rivers said.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who is a former U.S. attorney, condemned the Justice Department action and said the city will not help federal law enforcement crack down on marijuana.

“Seattle won’t be bullied by the Trump Administration which is obsessed with undoing progress that we’ve made on key issues, including legalization,” she said in a statement.

“Let’s be clear: Our Seattle Police Department will not participate in any enforcement action related to legal businesses or small personal possession of marijuana by adults. Federal law enforcement will find no partner with Seattle to enforce the rollback of these provisions.”

U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes of Seattle said in a statement that federal prosecutors will “focus on those who pose the greatest safety risk.”

“Today the Attorney General reiterated his confidence in the basic principles that guide the discretion of all U.S. Attorneys around the country, and directed that those principles shepherd enforcement of federal law regarding marijuana. He also emphasized his belief that U.S. Attorneys are in the best position to address public safety in their districts, and address the crime control problems that are pressing in their communities. Those principles have always been at the core of what the United States Attorney’s Office for Western Washington has done – across all threats to public safety, including those relating to marijuana. As a result, we have investigated and prosecuted over many years cases involving organized crime, violent and gun threats, and financial crimes related to marijuana. We will continue to do so to ensure – consistent with the most recent guidance from the Department – that our enforcement efforts with our federal, state, local and tribal partners focus on those who pose the greatest safety risk to the people and communities we serve,” Hayes said in her statement.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said it was too soon to tell how the new federal guidance would affect pot users and businesses, but he and the governor declared there would be no local resources dedicated toward federal enforcement.

They stopped short of promising legal protections for individuals who may be targeted, saying they were still assessing the uncertainties of the situation.

Ferguson said his team has long prepared to take up the legal fight over recreational pot. Last year, he and Inslee wrote to Sessions urging him to respect Washington state’s marijuana laws, but they got no meaningful response.

Inslee chided Sessions as being ideologically obsessed with derailing legalized marijuana programs, even though the tightly regulated industry is flourishing in states that have approved recreational sales.

The Democrat governor called the decision by the Trump administration an attempt to distract the public from its internal chaos.

“We should not be intimidated on this issue by the Trump administration,” Inslee said. “We should believe that an uproar of democratically expressed sentiment can defeat the Trump administration.”