Feds give pot the green light, won’t interfere with state legalization

OLYMPIA -- It was a big announcement that has big ramifications for the state's burgeoning marijuana market: Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department will not challenge Washington’s marijuana law. The announcement put many at ease who were  worried the feds would file suit to block the law before it was fully implemented.

Gov. Jay Inslee on the phone with Eric Holder

Gov. Jay Inslee applauded the announcement, saying it shows that the government will respect the wishes of Washington voters.

“It took courage, it took foresight,” Inslee said. He spoke with Holder via telephone Thursday morning. “We’ve shown them reason to trust.”

But let’s be clear: It’s not that pot suddenly became legal under federal law and remains an illegal substance.

Holder said the feds are going to basically back off when it comes to enforcing U.S. law in Washington and Colorado, the two states that have legalized it -- and that's a huge step. As long as these states have a tightly regulated market, and keep it from getting out of hand, the feds aren’t going to intervene.

“We have found a path forward,” Inslee said.

In agreeing to stay out of Washington’s pot experiment, the attorney general wants assurances from Inslee on a number of fronts, including that new stores won’t become fronts for other illicit activity, Washington won’t end up becoming a pot supplier to the rest of the country and marijuana won’t fall into the hands of minors.

“We’re going to do everything humanely possible,” the governor said. “I’m committed to that.”

Inslee added that as a grandfather of three young children, he has a personal interest in marijuana not getting into the hands of minors. “We’re going to find every possible way to enforce this mechanism,” he said.

The Liquor Control Board, which has been hard at work for months formulating new pot rules for growers, distributors and retailers, said the DOJ was closely tracking their work.

“I don’t think the federal government would have stepped forward at this point without some degree of comfort that we were already well on the way to addressing those eight particular areas,” board member Chris Mar said about the DOJ’s priority list.

The board is set to issue its final rules next week, including how many store licenses will be allowed, how much pot can be produced and how it’s all going to be tracked in a central database.