Inslee on legal marijuana: ‘We’re not going backwards on this issue’

Governor Jay Inslee of Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

OLYMPIA — Leaders in Washington state are reacting to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind an Obama-era policy that has helped legal marijuana flourish in the state and elsewhere.

From the governor to the state’s attorney general, down to local lawmakers and marijuana advocates, many in Washington criticized Sessions’ move to take back the so-called Cole Memo, a letter sent out under the Obama administration that effectively encouraged federal prosecutors not to go after state-legal cannabis operations.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson released a statement Thursday on Twitter saying he’s “disappointed with Sessions’ plans to abandon the current federal policy on marijuana.” He also mentioned Sessions rescinding the Ogden Memo from 2009, which states medical marijuana prosecutions are “unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources.”

He also linked to a 15-page letter the governor and attorney general sent to Sessions last August.

Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted, saying the state would “vigorously defend” our state’s laws against federal interruption.

He went on to say that the people “of Washington have spoken. We are not going backwards on this issue.”

The U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Washington, Annette Hayes, released the following statement Thursday:

    Today the Attorney General reiterated his confidence in the basic principles that guide the discretion of all U.S. Attorneys around the country, and directed that those principles shepherd enforcement of federal law regarding marijuana.  He also emphasized his belief that U.S. Attorneys are in the best position to address public safety in their districts, and address the crime control problems that are pressing in their communities.  Those principles have always been at the core of what the United States Attorney’s Office for Western Washington has done – across all threats to public safety, including those relating to marijuana.  As a result, we have investigated and prosecuted over many years cases involving organized crime, violent and gun threats, and financial crimes related to marijuana.  We will continue to do so to ensure – consistent with the most recent guidance from the Department – that our enforcement efforts with our federal, state, local and tribal partners focus on those who pose the greatest safety risk to the people and communities we serve.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan also released a statement saying, “Seattle won’t be bullied by the Trump Administration which is obsessed with undoing progress that we’ve made on key issues, including legalization.”

Durkan and city attorney Pete Holmes held a press conference at 11:15 a.m., detailing the city’s plan to combat any federal intrusion into legalized pot.

Congresswoman Maria Jayapal blasted Sessions’ move, saying she was “extremely disappointing” and that legal marijuana took an important step in “strengthening public health.”

Congressman Denny Heck, a Democrat, said the withdrawal of the Cole Memo was “reckless and irresponsible.”

“This reckless and irresponsible action from the Department of Justice will not go unanswered,” Heck said. “To prevent this aciton from spiraling out of control, Congress must immediately remove marijuana from the list of of controlled substances, in order to preserve the legal marijuana markets in 37 states.”

Congressman Adam Smith, a Democrat, also condemned the move.

State Rep. Dan Kristiansen (R-Snohomish) said it “didn’t surprise him” that the federal government was looking to go after state legalized marijuana, and that whatever the outcome, state business leaders could be impacted.

“At this stage of the game, based on the citizens’ initiative, we have billions of dollars of transactions that are taking place related to the marijuana industry,” Kristiansen said.

State Senator Sharon Nelson said the state worked in a bipartisan way to legalize marijuana, and she showed concern for local business owners.

“We’ve already worked on the initiative in a bi-partisan way to make sure it worked for the state of Washington,” Nelson said. “The concern I have is for the banking in the industry.”

Dow Constantine, King County’s Executive, said marijuana legalization has been “nothing but good for Washington.”

Q13FOX.com will carry live press conferences throughout the day, and update this story as more information becomes available.