Feds Aren’t Happy With WA MMJ

Washington’s medical marijuana reform bill, SB 5887, died in the legislature this past week. This bill would have led to a major overhaul for Washington’s medical marijuana industry as it mandated that MMJ patients could secure their meds only from I-502 compliant stores (the stores allowed under Washington’s new recreational marijuana laws).

We were not surprised by the legislature’s failure to harmonize recreational marijuana with medical marijuana this time around, though we are confident that will happen, sooner rather than later. It was clear this time that Republicans were not going to vote in favor of SB 5887 because the bill failed to provide direction on if and how tax revenue generated by recreational marijuana sales would be divided between the cities and counties, and also because they were hesitant to force MMJ patients into a recreational marketplace that does not yet even exist.

Washington State’s continuing failure to clean up its medical marijuana situation has brought strong reactions from the Federal Government that may even jeopardize elements of its recreational program.

Normally, the U.S. Attorneys in Washington (Jenny Durkan in the Western District and Michael Ormsby in the Eastern District) stay relatively mum on marijuana in Washington State. Given that marijuana is still Federally prohibited, this is not a big surprise. However, once I-502 passed and the Federal government issued its Cole Memo in August 2013, Jenny Durkan told the press that Washington’s medical marijuana program was “not tenable” because it did not have the tight regulations sought by the Federal government.

In a radio interview, Ms. Durkan emphasized that the Federal government will continue cracking down on marijuana establishments that fail to abide by the Cole memo. We take this to mean that all unregulated/loosely regulated marijuana operations are at risk and we believe that applies to any marijuana operation without an I-502 license. The only question we have is when the crack down will begin which is anyone’s guess given the Federal government enforcement track record in this State.

For places like the city of Seattle, which has mandated that all marijuana businesses must have a State marijuana license by January 2015, the threat of Federal enforcement may be a moot point as the city itself will no doubt clear out any businesses not in compliance.

As further proof of Federal government seriousness in clamping down on unregulated and/or loosely regulated cannabis regimes, one need only look at how the FBI has refused to provide the Washington State Liquor Control Board with background checks for cannabis licensing applicants. The FBI has provided those checks for Colorado (which has strictly regulated medical and recreational programs), but not Washington, and we believe that’s likely because it does not view the dual medical-recreational systems as in compliance with the most recent Cole memo.