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Washington State issues how-to regs on growing, selling marijuana

Washington State voters approved legalizing marijuana. Now, state officials are working out the regulations for growing, distributing, and selling pot. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, so Uncle Sam is keeping a close eye.

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A big step in relieving that state-federal tension came last week when the US Justice Department announced that it would leave it to states to regulate individual marijuana use, recreationally or for medicinal purposes, as long as states “implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems.”

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But this doesn’t mean Uncle Sam is backing off entirely.

“If state reinforcement efforts are not sufficiently robust … the federal government may seek to challenge the [state] regulatory scheme itself in addition to continuing to bring individual enforcement actions, including criminal prosecutions…,” states the Justice Department memo to US Attorneys.

Under the new federal guidelines, the federal government's top investigative priorities include preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors; preventing sales revenue from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels; preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity; preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana; preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands; and preventing the diversion of marijuana outside of states where it is legal under state law.

Still, the trend in public opinion continues to move in the pro-pot direction.

In April, the Pew Research Center for the first time found majority support (52-45 percent) for legalizing marijuana – a noticeable 11 percent increase in support just since 2010. The Pew poll also found that a larger number of Americans – 60 percent – agree that “the federal government should not enforce federal laws prohibiting the use of marijuana in states where it is legal.”

Details remain to be worked out with the proposed regulations in Washington State, and there could be legal challenges. As it is now, some counties and cities where pot shops have been approved by the state still outlaw such sales at the local level.

"A controversy that will certainly develop is whether cities and counties can outlaw marijuana," Ryan Espegard, a Seattle attorney who specializes in cannabis regulation, told the Los Angeles Times. "And can employers or landlords ban the use on premises? Can you be fired for using in your spare time? These will be playing out in the next year, next two years."

One former Microsoft executive, who declared his intent to become “big marijuana” by dominating the legal market, reportedly will challenge the three-operation limit on individuals and businesses.

If all goes as planned with the licensing plans, recreational marijuana could be sold in Washington State shops by next summer. 


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