Washington state Governor Chris Gregoire said Thursday she will not sign a controversial medical marijuana bill into law.
Ms. Gregoire says she will not the sign legislation to create licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington state after the Justice Department warned it could result in a federal crackdown.
The governor’s comments follow in the wake of the state’s two U.S. attorneys telling Ms. Gregoire in a letter Thursday that bills passed by the Washington House and Senate would permit large scale growing and distribution of the marijuana, a violation of federal law.
Ms. Gregoire said signing the bill into law would likely open the state to federal prosecution, which could cost the state millions in legal fees.
Gregoire became concerned about a potential federal crackdown after speaking with the U.S. attorneys for Eastern and Western Washington, Michael Ormsby and Jenny Durkan. The prosecutors were concerned that the proposed legislation would legalize commercial sales of marijuana, said state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the bill's prime sponsor. Ormsby and Durkan could not be reached for comment.
Ormsby, the U.S. attorney in Spokane, threatened last week to seize property where dispensaries were operating.
The Justice Department has taken a largely hands-off approach to medical marijuana since October 2009, when it issued a memo that said patients who were in "clear and unambiguous compliance" with state laws were not a priority. But the memo emphasized that "commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority."
This has not been the case recently as federal authorities have raided medical marijuana businesses in several states where it currently legal at the state level.
Ormsby warned that "marijuana stores" are illegal, and urged property owners who rent to medical marijuana dispensaries to evict their clients or face forfeiture.
"We are preparing for quick and direct action against the operators of the stores," Ormsby wrote.
More than 100 dispensaries have opened statewide in the past year and a half under the voter-approved 1998 medical marijuana law that neither specifically allowed nor prohibited them.