OLYMPIA, Jan. 25.—Gov. Jay Inslee says he’s going to leave no leaf unturned in his effort to make the feds happy with Washington’s new marijuana law. The new governor said it’s full speed ahead for efforts to devise a new legalized-marijuana marketplace in the Evergreen State – even if the U.S. Justice Department remains mum about possible legal action that could slam the brakes.
Inslee, speaking with reporters Thursday, fielded questions about his inconclusive meeting Tuesday in the Other Washington with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The nation’s top law-enforcement official offered no clue about whether the feds will sue to stop implementation of Initiative 502, the landmark measure that will bring marijuana to Main Street by December of this year and launch a billion-dollar business in this state. Inslee, who announced his opposition to the measure during his campaign for governor, now says he wants to make sure the rules are done right.
“It is my intent to move forward, to follow the voters’ intent in the state of Washington,” he said. “And I intend to move forward in that direction until we are stopped.”
Proud First for Evergreen State
In a state where proud lawmakers are fond of declaring they are first in the nation on one policy or another, voters one-upped the Legislature when they approved I-502 by a whopping 56 percent vote last fall. Though Colorado voters approved a legalization measure of their own in the same election, a task force in the Mile High State is still developing a proposal to take to its Legislature. In this state the law is already on the books, and it’s a matter of developing regulations – a task that has been assigned to the state Liquor Control Board.
First in the nation? Try planet Earth, Inslee said.
“This is a big challenge and opportunity for the state of Washington,” he said. “We will be the first state in the world to adopt a licensed, regulated, disciplined distribution market for marijuana – I think in world history. And the eyes of the nation will be on us.”
Inslee’s attention to the issue brings new meaning to the frequent observation that he may be the nation’s greenest governor – which until this point has had more to do with his support for non-polluting energy production and environmental startup businesses. Inslee said he aims to quell federal concerns that Washington’s new cash crop might find its way into the wrong hands. Holder’s big concern seemed to be inventory control, he said – whether bales of the green stuff might disappear somewhere between farm and distribution center, and wind up in other states where the rulebook has yet to be rewritten.
Needs Help Growing
“I think the major concern would be here that growers would somehow have a regular leakage of their product and it would wind up in Oregon. We want to use all methods at our disposal to reduce that as much as humanly possible. That will be our goal. I believe we will do it.”
Inslee said the state might take a cue from the biotech industry, which has developed computerized methods of tracking prescription medication from the manufacturing plant to the store. He said he plans to brief Holder on the state’s progress within the next 10 days.
Though Inslee, who was joined by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, received no assurance from the nation’s top law enforcement official during the 45-minute meeting, Washington’s chief executive said he remains bullish on prospects for the homegrown industry. He referred to the interview President Barack Obama offered last month to television interviewer Barbara Walters, in which he said cracking down on Washington and Colorado would not be “a top priority.” Inslee said, “You know, the president’s use of language – ‘we have bigger fish to fry’ – I’m not sure that is a technical term or a legal one. But the Justice Department has limited resources. We have issues of violence in our society. We have an ongoing federal initiative to address gun violence in the United States. And to do that takes some very significant resources of the federal government.
“I am hopeful that the federal government will conclude, frankly, that the resources are better spent in eliminating or reducing gun violence than in stopping a voter initiative and a democratically approved process in the state of Washington. I think that would be a legitimate and wise decision to reach that conclusion. But to do that, I need a state that is going to help me grow a system of responsible administration of this program.”
Not Holding Breath
Meanwhile, leaders of the Republican Caucus in the House and the largely Republican Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate don’t seem to be cheering. But they say the voters have spoken. In a media availability of their own Thursday, they said they would be foolish to count on any of the big tax revenues the initiative promises.
“We are not going to bank any money on it, because clearly the message that I am hearing is that we are not hearing much from Washington, D.C.,” said Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue. “They have not given us a definitive answer as far as going forward, and there is a big difference. There are kind of two steps to this process. One is that you have a level of decriminalization, looking the other way, and we will see where the feds are on that. But when it comes to the state actually profiting on the sale of marijuana, that is a whole ‘nother level.”
House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis suggested that if it comes down to a court fight, one Washington versus the other, the feds could try to withhold some of the substantial tax money they distribute to the state. “We respect the initiative process,” he said. “The initiative passed. So now [Inslee] has to weave his way through federal issues that could cost us, oh, $600 million.”
So don’t expect lawmakers to do anything about marijuana this year, they said. They acknowledged that in every legislative district of the state there seems to be plenty of interest from potential new captains of agribusiness. Said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, who represents the remote forested northeastern corner of the state, “I’ve already got a bunch.”