SEATTLE — Washington state is ready to fight if necessary to keep its legal marijuana, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Thursday after White House spokesman Sean Spicer hinted at a federal crackdown.
“We will resist any efforts to thwart the will of the voters in Washington,” Ferguson said.
Spicer offered no details about what any renewed federal efforts in legal-pot states might entail, but said he expected "greater enforcement" and drew a distinction between marijuana use for medical and recreational purposes.
Washington and Colorado were the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in 2012, and they've since been joined by six others and Washington, D.C. Sales at licensed pot shops in Washington now average nearly $4.4 million per day — with little evidence of any negative societal effects.
That's close to $1 billion in sales so far for the fiscal year that began last July, some $184 million of which is state tax revenue.
Ferguson said he was disappointed in Spicer's comments. He noted that he and Gov. Jay Inslee, both Democrats, previously prepared to defend the state's scheme against any efforts by the administration of President Barack Obama to shut it down, though Obama ultimately agreed to tolerate tightly regulated marijuana markets in states that chose to adopt them.
"The message hasn't changed, but the audience is a little bit different," Ferguson said.
Ferguson said in a statement Thursday that he was "deeply disappointed" to hear White House comments regarding marijuana legalization by states like Washington.
Ferguson and Gov. Jay Inslee sent a letter last week to new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to request a meeting on the topic.
"I will also be very clear with AG Sessions that I will defend the will of Washington voters," Ferguson said in his Thursday statement. "My office will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that the federal government does not undermine Washington's successful, unified system for regulating recreational and medical marijuana."
In the letter to Sessions, Ferguson and Inslee wrote:
"Our state's efforts to regulate the sale of marijuana are succeeding. A few years ago, the illegal trafficking of marijuana lined the pockets of criminals everywhere. Now, in our state, illegal trafficking activity is being displaced by a closely regulated marijuana industry that pays hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. This frees up significant law enforcement resources to protect our communities in other, more pressing ways."
Among the actions the federal government could take are suing legal-pot states to shut down their markets, on the argument that their laws contradict the federal Controlled Substances Act; arresting and prosecuting pot-shop operators or customers; or warning the industry that their assets could be forfeited to the government as illegal drug proceeds.
"I can't imagine the federal government using limited resources to try to bring down a new, regulated system that has worked so well," said state Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland. "Prohibition was an unmitigated failure. The war on drugs is already winding down, and this administration will try to ramp it up again at its own peril."
Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for the Washington CannaBusiness Association, said his organization was committed to complying with the state's laws, which ensure "safe communities and a successful marketplace."
"We recognize that not everyone is convinced that cannabis should be legal," he said in an email. "We look forward to continuing our state's leadership as an example of how licensed, regulated cannabis businesses are responsible members of Washington's business community that bring value to state and local economies."