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Waiting for the Green Light

UNITED STATES - JUNE 26: Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., speaks at a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to express support for the Supreme Court's ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and the court's declining to rule on California's Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)


Waiting for the Green Light

Representatives in Colorado and Washington are eager to find out how the federal government will treat the newly state-authorized marijuana shops coming to these states next year. Democrat Jared Polis of Colorado specifically wants to know if the “Ogden Memo” would apply to the federal approach of the stores. This 2009 memo, circulated by then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, specifies that the prosecution of “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana…is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources.” This document has been key in medical marijuana legislation in that it calls for the enforcement against violent crimes surrounding the industry, rather than patients and those who supply them with medical aid. However, current Attorney General Eric Holder has been loathe to supply the representatives with concrete details about how feds will be responding to pot markets which have been approved by the states.

At the same time, the DEA raided several dispensaries in Washington state in late July, citing that the companies were not operating under federal law. Employees of these dispensaries were unapologetic and unsatisfied with the continued disruption of their business. “It hurts me a lot. This is really hard. This is my life…This doesn’t just effect the state and the feds, it effects all of us,” said Addy Norton, an employee of Bayside Collective in Olympia. The collective’s shelves were emptied of marijuana by gun-toting federal agents. Patients of Bayside, like Leif O’Leary, were similarly confused: “You can’t tell me there isn’t [sic] bigger fish to fry, especially now that recreational marijuana is legal [in the state].” DEA representatives explained in a 2012 press release that “The Drug Enforcement Administration’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged…The Department of Justice is reviewing the ballot initiatives and we have no additional comment at this time.”

Because of the federal silence over how it will approach the issue, and the conflict between state environmental and federal drug laws, several counties of Washington do not want to opt in to the recreational pot industry. Chairwoman of the Pierce County Council Joyce McDonald said her board does not want to have to engage in recreational cannabis operations out of fears it will cost them dearly. “You cannot invalidate the Controlled Substance Act,” she told the Washington State Liquor Control Board (which is currently drafting rules to implement the recreational marijuana initiative), “We’re going to be forced to fight the state or the federal government.”

It is unclear as of press time whether the opening of marijuana stores will ease pressure off medical marijuana dispensaries by giving the government an easier target, but Rep. Polis told US News he doesn’t expect an increased federal crackdown on the burgeoning industry, explaining, “That would be a terrible approach and it would be completely inappropriate.”

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