Lawmaker To AG: Why Isn’t Medical Pot A States’ Rights Issue?


Photo: KOMO News
Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna thinks fighting health care reform is a states’ rights issue — but he seems completely unwilling to defend the state’s medical marijuana law against the feds

​When 15 Democratic lawmakers in the Washington Legislature on Monday asked state Attorney General Rob McKenna for his opinion on several cannabis-related issues, his non-response only proved that the long-winded AG is capable of blathering on meaninglessly for six pages without ever actually saying anything.

McKenna’s office released an informal opinion which, Chris Grygiel of the Seattle P.I. reports, “largely declined to answer the questions the legislators previous posed to him. Those centered around how the federal government, which does not recognize state medical cannabis laws, might react to changes in Washington’s rules.”

The entire six-page non-response consists basically of “McKenna shucking and jiving away from offering any substantive answers,” wrote Curtis Cartier at the Seattle Weekly. “If only there were some other state-funded lawyer above McKenna who was qualified to look at a complex legal issue like that and offer advice… I’m being told there is not.”
McKenna — a conservative, despite being a transgendered FTM — is, of course, in a hairy situation as the Republican attorney general of a Democratic-leaning state. His reticence to provide any actual answers fits in well with his years-long record of failing to provide leadership on the medical marijuana (or most any other) issue.

Photo: The Stranger
Rep. Roger Goodman: “I’m really surprised that he didn’t reassert states’ rights in this area of the law.”

​But one of the state lawmakers who had asked McKenna about the legal implications of potential new medical marijuana legislation said he was disappointed by the AG’s typically spineless non-response, reports the Seattle P.I.
“I can understand how the attorney general might sidestep our second question, about the likelihood of federal intervention,” Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) told “But our third question was about the validity of the medical cannabis program in the state … I’m really surprised that he didn’t reassert states’ rights in this area of the law. He’s very strongly asserting states’ rights when he challenges the Obama health plan. This is another health care matter, frankly. I’m just mystified why he’s been so quiet on the issue in general.”
McKenna, of course, is one of about two dozen GOP attorneys general who have cited states’ rights and sued to block implementation of health care changes signed into law by President Obama. McKenna claims he doesn’t object to the entire health care bill, just the part that mandates that people buy private insurance.
Washington Governor Christine Gregoire voted most of an earlier bill that had sought to clarify and expand the state’s existing medical marijuana law, approved by voters in 1998. The governor claimed she was concerned about the federal arrest of state workers, even though that has never happened in any medical marijuana state, even those which license dispensaries.
New legislation in the works — Senate Bill 5995 [PDF], which was introduced on Tuesday — would allow “nonprofit patient cooperatives” to operate only in cities which specifically allowed them.
In the real world, this means that Seattle or King County patients would likely be the only ones in the entire state with safe access, as no other municipality has shown the slightest interest in allowing dispensaries.
According to the newly added Section 6 of SB 5995, “It is not a violation of state criminal or civil law for a nonprofit patient cooperative to distribute cannabis for the medical use of its members if a city, town or county in which the nonprofit patient cooperative is located has enacted an ordinance stating that nonprofit patient cooperatives are not prohibited by local ordinance from operation within its jurisdiction.”
“This language is specifically for the City of Seattle, so they may legally allow and regulate dispensaries,” said Ben Livingston of Seattle-based patient advocacy group Cannabis Defense Coalition (CDC). “The only interest other municipalities have is in banning dispensaries.”
“The governor’s representative, John Lane … clearly said that the governor’s office felt that municipalities had all the legal language they needed to ban dispensaries,” Livingston said. “The question of ‘Do they have the legal language to allow them?’ was brought up, and this language — allowing dispensaries if a city adopts an ordinance allowing them, is the result.
“Do not think this bill would allow nonprofit dispensaries to operate,” Livingston said. “In fact, it will clearly outlaw them and set them up for raid in most places outside of Seattle.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Goodman said he’s not sure if the latest medical marijuana legislation will succeed in the closing days of the special session. But he added that other governments are keeping an eye on the situation in Washington.
“The whole nation is watching,” Goodman said. “We need to resolve this.”