My latest Forbes column considers whether the failure of medical marijuana legislation in Washington is apt to trigger a federal crackdown. Here is how it starts:
Last week Washington's legislature ended its 2014 session without approving new restrictions on medical marijuana, a step that supporters portrayed as necessary to prevent federal interference as the state begins allowing the sale of cannabis for recreational use. After all, the Justice Department indicated in an August 29 memothat it would allow legalization to proceed in Washington and Colorado only if both states created "strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems." Washington's medical marijuana dispensaries, which are not licensed or regulated by the state, seem inconsistent with that expectation.
Jenny Durkan, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, said as much the very day the DOJ memo was released. "The Department guidance is premised on the expectation that the state will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems," she warned. "The continued operation and proliferation of unregulated, for-profit entities outside of the state's regulatory and licensing scheme is not tenable and violates both state and federal law."
Now that it looks like these unregulated entities will continue selling marijuana for another year or so at least, competing with the state-licensed stores that are supposed to start opening this summer, will Durkan feel compelled to crack down? Probably not, judging from her past behavior and a close examination of her public statements. Patience certainly seems like a more appropriate response, especially since Durkan is largely responsible for creating the situation that she now views as "not tenable."