• Federal pot crack down would ‘divert marijuana into the black market,' northwest governors write

    By: KIRO 7 News Staff

    Updated:

    Governors from the first four states to legalize recreational marijuana are asking President Donald Trump’s administration to let the pot experiments continue.

    Washington Governor Jay Inslee along with the governors of Alaska, Colorado and Oregon wrote in a letter on Monday that marijuana legalization has expanded their economies.

    The governors said that legal weed can be regulated to protect public safety and that legalization reduces "inequitable incarceration," or people of color being disproportionately jailed for pot crimes.

    The governors say they opposed legalization at first, but warn that a federal pot crackdown now "would divert existing marijuana product into the black market."

    Washington state voters legalized marijuana nearly four years ago.

    When it passed, the U.S. Attorney General's office promised to take a hands-off attitude, as long people in Washington State kept it away from children and kept locally grown marijuana from crossing state lines. Under a new attorney general that could change, as selling it still remains a crime under federal law.

    The letter was addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

    Read the letter below. 

    During a Seattle panel about presidential power in modern politics in early February, criminal law expert and University of Washington professor Trevor Gardner explained to a room full of hundreds of people that he believes tackling local marijuana laws will be difficult for the federal government.

    Here are some of those points.

    • The federal government does not have ability to direct state and local police
    • Of 1.2 million law enforcement agents, only 80,000 are operating at federal level, which means in order for federal government to broadly enforce marijuana prohibition it needs to cooperation of state and local police. The DOJ prosecutes after arrests have been made by state and local police.
    • In the event Sessions does not have that cooperation, it will be difficult for them to prosecute and enforce the marijuana prohibition broadly in decriminalization states.     

    Eight states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Twenty-one states have decriminalized marijuana. This means certain small, personal-consumption amounts are a civil or local infraction, not a state crime.

    "[Sessions has] taken the Obama administration to task by name and mentioned Obama, attorney generals -- Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder -- as well as FBI Director James Comey saying they have all [failed] to enforce federal marijuana prohibition in criminal decriminalization states," Gardner said.  

    "I do think the federal government, the Department of Justice, and Jeff Sessions are going to be very aggressive about prosecuting marijuana production, distribution, and decriminalization states … This is not going to be an easy task for the government."

    Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in February his team is ready to defend the will of the voters in the event that the Trump administration cracks down on states with legalized marijuana for recreational use.  

    The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

    Next Up: