Local leaders respond to decision to roll back federal pot policy

Gov. Jay Inslee shown on Thursday, June 22, 2017, in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

Washington state leaders are responding to a Trump administration decision to rescind an Obama-era policy, known as the Cole Memorandum, that paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in numerous states.

Statement from Gov. Jay Inslee:

If news reports are accurate, today's forthcoming announcement from Attorney General Sessions is the wrong direction for our state. It is also disrespects Washington voters who have chosen a different path for our state. I am especially frustrated that this announcement comes after Sessions has refused offers from Attorney General Ferguson and myself to meet with him to discuss these policies in person, after he has disregarded the input that we and other state leaders have provided to his department.

"In Washington state we have put in place a system in place that adheres to what we pledged to the people of Washington and the federal government; it's well regulated, keeps criminal elements out, keeps pot out of the hands of kids and tracks it all carefully enough to clamp down on cross-border leakage. We are going to keep doing that and overseeing the well-regulated market that Washington voters approved.

"Make no mistake: As we have told the Department of Justice ever since I-502 was passed in 2012, we will vigorously defend our state's laws against undue federal infringement."

Last year, Inslee and Ferguson wrote to Attorney General Sessions asking him to respect Washington state’s marijuana laws, and offered to meet with him to discuss federal treatment of marijuana laws. Inslee also joined with the governors of Alaska, Colorado in Oregon in sending another letter to Sessions and U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin telling them to retain the Cole Memo and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network guidance that respects state marijuana systems.

Statement from Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan

"While I was U.S. Attorney, I helped craft DOJ policy on legal marijuana. That policy properly deprioritized legal marijuana, ensured states had the guidance on how to implement medical marijuana to help patients and end the black market, and focused our efforts on protecting kids and targeting organized crime. Reversing course now is a misguided legal overreach and an attack on Seattle, the state of Washington and a majority of states where the voters have made their voices heard loud and clear.

"Seattle won't be bullied by the Trump Administration which is obsessed with undoing progress that we've made on key issues, including legalization."

"With overdose deaths, primarily caused by opioids, at an all-time high in King County, the federal government should be a better partner to help combat this epidemic.  President Trump and DOJ should not waste our law enforcement resources and taxpayer money on prosecuting legal activity and instead prioritize their efforts on ending the scourge of the opioid crisis.

"Let's be clear: Our Seattle Police Department will not participate in any enforcement action related to legal businesses or small personal possession of marijuana by adults. Federal law enforcement will find no partner with Seattle to enforce the rollback of these provisions.

"I have full confidence that Seattle, our Attorney General, and our Governor will lead to ensure our businesses, residents, and visitors are protected from this overreach."

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson

While speaking with Gov. Jay Inslee at an Associated Press legislative forum Thursday, Ferguson said he was “deeply disappointed” in Sessions’ decision, but said it didn’t come as a great surprise.

Ferguson said no legal action had been taken as he wants to be thoughtful about the approach.

The AG said he had been working with a group of attorneys general about the issue in the past and will be having a conversation with them again.

Ferguson said Sessions' refusal to meet with him and others "is maddening."

"This is a big, big issue," he said. "In grappling with big issues, it helps to actually have a conversation. The attorney general will not meet with legislative leaders, he will not meet with the governor, he will not meet with me."

Ferguson said that while much has been said about the Cole memo, he pointed out that the 2009 Ogden memo was very important considering that more than two dozen states have legal medical marijuana, which was "breathtaking" and "especially troubling" to him given Sessions' action.

Ferguson said the Ogden memo made it clear that federal resources should not be directed toward users of medical marijuana in states where it was legal.

Statement from US Attorney for the Western District of Washington Annette L. Hayes

Today the Attorney General reiterated his confidence in the basic principles that guide the discretion of all U.S. Attorneys around the country, and directed that those principles shepherd enforcement of federal law regarding marijuana.  He also emphasized his belief that U.S. Attorneys are in the best position to address public safety in their districts, and address the crime control problems that are pressing in their communities.  Those principles have always been at the core of what the United States Attorney's Office for Western Washington has done - across all threats to public safety, including those relating to marijuana.  As a result, we have investigated and prosecuted over many years cases involving organized crime, violent and gun threats, and financial crimes related to marijuana.  We will continue to do so to ensure - consistent with the most recent guidance from the Department - that our enforcement efforts with our federal, state, local and tribal partners focus on those who pose the greatest safety risk to the people and communities we serve.

Statement from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown

"Reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will roll back federal marijuana policy are deeply concerning and disruptive to our state's economy. Over 19,000 jobs have been created by the market Oregon worked carefully to build in good faith and in accordance with the Cole Memorandum. The federal government must keep its promise to states that relied on its guidance.

"States are the laboratories of democracy, where progressive policies are developed and implemented for the benefit of their people. Voters in Oregon were clear when they chose for Oregon to legalize the sale of marijuana and the federal government should not stand in the way of the will of Oregonians.

"My staff and state agencies are working to evaluate reports of the Attorney General's decision and will fight to continue Oregon's commitment to a safe and prosperous recreational marijuana market."