Responding to a memo from federal prosecutors, Gov. Chris Gregoire is announcing that she will veto a long-sought bill to protect sick and dying people from arrest and regulate dispensaries:

I am glad the Department of Justice has clarified its position on this difficult issue. In light of the Department of Justice’s guidance, it is clear that I cannot sign a bill that authorizes our state employees to license marijuana dispensaries when the department would prosecute those involved. However, I recognize there are problems with how people with serious illnesses obtain medical marijuana and will work with lawmakers to address these challenges in a way that does not conflict with federal enforcement policy.

But Gregoire should sign this bill.

She's making a dishonest excuse.

The Dept. of Justice didn't actually say it "would prosecute" state employees. And the memo hasn't really clarified the fed's position on medical marijuana, taken in 2009, that it retains the right to prosecute but won't target people complying with state law. As for state employees: Prosecution was listed among a laundry list of less severe potential actions. But New Mexico passed a law to regulate dispensaries in 2007; their Department of Health has regulated that pot growing and distribution since 2008 (workers can even go collect samples of the marijuana if someone complains). Feds have never prosecuted state employees in New Mexico running the medical marijuana program.

And that's apparently the intended approach of prosecutors here.

US Attorney Jenny Durkan made it clear that state employees weren't here target, writing yesterday, "In the area of marijuana drug prosecutions, this means our targets include organized criminal groups, those who abuse public or tribal lands, people who commercialize the marijuana trade for profit or use it to finance other criminal activity, and doctors who abuse their positions and fraudulently certify individuals as medical marijuana patients." None of those "targets" are state employees or the growers and dispensaries that would operate as nonprofits under this law. And US Attorney General Eric Holder said in 2009 that he would not pursue people complying with state medical marijuana laws.

"It's obvious that the federal government is not interested in going after state employees regulating medical marijuana, because if they were, they would have said something about back in 2009, the first time around," says ACLU of Washington drug policy director Alison Holcomb.

If Gregoire would just sign it, this bill would finally regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, license growers, and protect sick people from arrest (here's the full text). Good people and medical professionals have been trying to improve Washington's medical marijuana law for over a decade. Gregoire's own staff has worked on this with lawmakers, like bill sponsor Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36), for 18 months.

Tell her to sign it: (360) 902-4111.