What’s holding up that marijuana decision at Justice?

The News TribuneJune 12, 2013 

A marijuana plant is ready for harvesting at a Seattle grow operation.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Is there something about marijuana that leaves Attorney General Eric Holder speechless?

It’s been more than seven months since Washington voters approved a system of regulated, licensed pot sales. But under federal law, everything about marijuana — growing, distributing and selling — is illegal.

Not since the civil rights era has there been such a stark conflict between federal and state laws.

But Holder remains mum on that conflict. State officials are reduced to trying to decipher a handful of opaque statements from the Justice Department.

Washington’s Liquor Control Board is charged with writing rules for the new industry, but its members can only go so far without knowing what Justice will do. Will it move to enforce federal law? Adopt a wink-and-a-nod toleration policy, as Holder did with “medical” marijuana? Try to legally finesse the issue with some kind of a waiver?

Local legalization is a legal dilemma, to be sure, but Justice is full of bright people who get paid a lot of money to untangle legal dilemmas. Holder has thousands of attorneys at his command; it’s hard to believe he couldn’t move faster if he wanted to.

We didn’t like Initiative 502, primarily because we’re worried that it would expand marijuana use among adolescents. But genuinely controlled legalization would be a big improvement on the status quo if it could shut down today’s black market, which readily supplies pot to any interested teenager.

Lest memories fade, we’ll note that Holder and his boss, Barack Obama, also bear heavy responsibility for the existing marijuana bazaar in Western Washington.

Five years ago, before Obama was elected president and Holder appointed attorney general, medical marijuana in this state actually looked medicinal. Patients who needed it could get it from a specified caregiver or a cooperative, even though the latter arrangement pushed the limits of state law.

When Holder arrived, he telegraphed a lack of interest in shutting down marijuana dispensaries, period, including those violating Washington’s prohibition against selling the drug.

Voila! Within months, Washington had an unlicensed, commercial pot industry operating merrily outside the law.

Holder eventually decided that wide-open toleration wasn’t what he had in mind, and U.S. attorneys elsewhere have lately been shutting down the weed profiteers.

Unfortunately, the U.S. attorney for Western Washington, Jenny Durkan, doesn’t appear to have gotten the memo. Dispensaries remain a prime source of “medicine” for young and seemingly vigorous pot-smokers in this region. Of those who attend Seattle high schools, more than a third say they are supplied from dispensaries, according to a recent district survey.

Holder presided over this fiasco. His dithering may be setting the stage for another debacle, this time with legalized and regulated marijuana. Legal retailers won’t have a prayer unless the dispensaries are shut down.

Clarity, please, Mr. Attorney General. Clarity.

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