Marijuana legalization: Going forward without federal guidance

SEATTLE — Ever since Washington and Colorado made marijuana legal, there have been questions about what the federal authorities would do. Would they go to court to seek an injunction? Would they conduct raids?

Gov.-elect Jay Inslee didn’t support legalizing marijuana, but said Wednesday that he’ll fight for it because it is the will of the voters.

“This is a local decision of a local state, and we are going to do everything we can to convince the (Obama) administration in that regard,” Inslee said.

The concern over how federal authorities may respond to legalized pot in Washington state prompted Gov. Chris Gregoire to meet with Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. He told her that no federal decision has been made yet on how to handle the Nov. 6 approval of I-502 by Washington state voters.

In 2011, Gregoire vetoed most of a medical marijuana bill because she feared that state employees might face federal prosecution.

The governor isn’t the only one looking for clarification from federal authorities on the legalization of marijuana, so are the people assigned to enforce the laws.

“As law enforcement, we can’t wait,” said Moses Garcia, a traffic safety resource prosecutor who works on legal issues involving impaired driving for the Washington State Patrol. “There are a lot of things we are doing now; the patrols and the allied agencies are all meeting to try and understand how we go forward.”

The new law requires a blood test limit for driving under the influence. Garcia said officers will have to be retrained. He also said that in the new world of legal pot, possession of a small amount of the drug or the smell of pot will no longer be a reason to hold someone or investigate them for other crimes.

“We don’t want to be violating anyone’s legal rights, so we need to have some certainties when we tell officers this is now legal, or this is no longer permitted, and it needs to happen relatively quickly,” Garcia said.

Colorado’s  governor is also asking for guidance from the Justice Department.

Meanwhile, Gregoire said Washington state’s plan to regulate marijuana is moving forward.

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