Northwest Marijuana Guide
There is a big "IF" hanging over many of the articles in this guide about Washington's marijuana legalization law. For example, we write about future pot taxes—IF a federal lawsuit doesn't prevent our legalization law from taking effect. We also write about where pot retail stores can open—IF the Feds don't get an injunction that freezes licenses from being issued.
(Just to be clear, we're not talking about the medical marijuana law passed 15 years ago. That law isn't at risk. It didn't change. It won't change. We're only talking about the law concerning recreational pot that passed last fall.)
This is the primary concern you'll hear: The US Department of Justice (DOJ) could claim in the next couple months that our new state law conflicts with the federal Controlled Substances Act, they could file a lawsuit in US District Court, and they could seek an injunction that freezes the state from carrying out the law while the lawsuit winds through the courts. The people who drafted Initiative 502 specifically wrote it to beat this sort of lawsuit: Agents of the state will never handle or sell marijuana, so it will be hard to prove we're breaking laws.
Representing us if this goes to court: state attorney general Bob Ferguson.
"My job will be to defend the will of the voters," Ferguson told me in a recent interview. He's already flown to DC to meet personally with US attorney general Eric Holder to dissuade him from challenging it. But still, preparing for the worst, Ferguson's got a passel of lawyers armed to the teeth with legal briefings for a lawsuit that he hopes never gets filed.
"I am doing everything I can to defend that law, and I intend to win," he said.
If the DOJ does take action, they could employ a wide array of tactics. On one end of the spectrum, they could merely issue a statement saying that Washington must keep its legal pot inside state borders and pot businesses must follow strict rules or risk arrest. Or the Feds may question the state's right to collect tax revenue. If they take the most extreme tack, seeking an injunction, the state's law could come to a partial halt.
If that happens, nobody knows who will win the case. Nobody. But there are two guarantees: (1) Pot possession of up to one ounce will remain legal, because that part of the law is dictated entirely at the state level, not the federal level; and (2) we will get to watch a fantastic showdown that brings the fight over legal pot the same high profile as gay marriage.
This article has been updated since its original publication.