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Federal enforcement?

One key difference between the “nullification” bills some states (Idaho, for one) have been playing around with, and the marijuana proto-legalization efforts in some states, is this: The pot law proponents aren’t making the argument that (much as they might like to) they’re able to overturn federal law in the statehouses. They know they can’t do that. They can only change state law.

But there is that question: What effect would an overturning of a state law on the subject have on federal enforcement? Signals have been mixed: Sometimes saying the feds will enforce federal anti-drug law, other times seeming to say that state law preferences will be respected.

Both chambers of the Washington Legislature have passed versions of Senate Bill 5073, which expands the legality (under state law) of medical use of marijuana and limits law enforcement action against possessors.

Which brings us to the letter Governor Chris Gregoire this week sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The key paragraph:

“Within the next week lawmakers will be considering the differing versions of this legislation and determining what provisions of state law they will enact and forward to me, as Governor, for approval or disapproval. It would be very helpful to receive clear guidance on the Department of Justice enforcement position … Also, it would be helpful if the guidance addressed whether state employees involved in inspecting the premises, auditing the records or collecting fees from the licensed dispensers, producers or processors would be immune from arrest or liability when engaged in the enforcement of this licensing law.”

Something says we’re approaching a turning point here. The response, whatever it is, should be highly illuminating – and provocative.

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