An Effective Regulatory Scheme for Marijuana Activity

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DOJ sealThe U.S. Department of Justice provided welcome clarity today about its approach to the prosecution of marijuana activity in Washington State given last year’s voter-approved Initiative 502 to legalize marijuana. The announcement is instructive and should push the City Council to adopt tighter regulations of marijuana activity in Seattle when we consider legislation on September 9.

In a memo written for US Attorneys, the DOJ listed 8 priority areas for its marijuana enforcement efforts. These include keeping the drug out of the hands of minors, preventing the traffic of marijuana to other states and preventing drugged driving or other adverse health impacts. In a press conference, Governor Inslee reiterated today that Washington shares these enforcement priorities.

Outside of these areas, the DOJ memo does not relinquish the Department’s ability to enforce the Controlled Substances Act, but it does restate its traditional approach of letting local jurisdictions deal with lower-level or localized marijuana activity. However, the Department’s announcement made clear that cities and states with legalized marijuana must have serious and effective regulatory schemes:

“For states such as Colorado and Washington that have enacted laws to authorize the production, distribution and possession of marijuana, the Department expects these states to establish strict regulatory schemes that protect the eight federal interests identified in the Department’s guidance. These schemes must be tough in practice, not just on paper, and include strong, state-based enforcement efforts, backed by adequate funding.”

On September 9, the City Council will consider final legislation for where marijuana-related activity can occur in Seattle and under what circumstances. Last week, I submitted amendments that will require all activity above the level of a single collective garden (a term from the state’s medical marijuana law) to occur only by those with a state-issued license.

Under I-502, the Washington State Liquor Control Board is establishing rules for recreational marijuana that include setting qualifications for licensees, standards for product quality and ingredients, security requirements, and standards for tax reporting and payment. Allowing unregulated markets for marijuana to remain in operation after state licenses are issued under I-502 could undermine the growers, processors, and retailers licensed by the state under these new regulations.

That is why I will encourage my colleagues to support a tighter regulatory scheme for marijuana. As the Feds made clear today, we must show we’re serious about getting this right—first on paper, then on the ground.