Walla Walla County commissioners, like all local elected officials in Washington state, were left a tricky problem when voters approved Initiative 502, which calls for the legalization of recreational marijuana.
But the law doesn’t establish clear policies on where, when and how. The details have been left to state and local officials.
Adding to the complexity of the situation, it remains a federal crime to grow, distribute and use marijuana.
Last week the U.S. Department of Justice said it would not stop Washington state (or Colorado) from allowing recreational marijuana.
Yet, in making pot legal the state and local governments could still be in trouble if other U.S. laws are broken.
Here a few examples of the federal expectations: Prevent the distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing the diversion of marijuana to the 48 states were it remains illegal and prevent violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana. There are five more edicts that could prove just as challenging to meet.
The State Liquor Control Board has been charged with establishing policies on growing, distribution and use. It’s still slogging along finding new concerns with every small step forward.
Meanwhile, local governments are expected to establish their own policies, which presumably could include not allowing marijuana use.
On Tuesday, Walla Walla County’s commissioners had a public hearing regarding possible rules. There was no consensus. Some urged the commissioners to move ahead now and adopt regulations. Others wanted the county to slow down until the legal ramifications become clearer.
They will never be clear — at least until the federal government either repeals its marijuana laws or regulates pot as it does alcohol.
The laws and policies in situations such as making an illegal drug legal should be done from the top down, not the bottom up.
If other states legalize marijuana, and that is possible, there will be a patchwork of state laws on marijuana across the nation and thousands of local policies.
The laws are going to be tough to follow, even for those who aren’t high.
Walla Walla County commissioners are continuing their public hearing until Sept. 16. The cities of Walla Walla and College Place are on hold for now, waiting for some direction from the state. It is wise to move slowly given the abundance of ambiguity.
In the Tri-Cities, local officials are either adopting or leaning toward temporary bans on pot until the have more information from Olympia and Washington, D.C.
Pasco Councilman Saul Martinez said I-502 puts his city at risk of violating federal law and interfering with what Washington voters want.
“This puts us between a rock and a hard spot,” he said.
He’s right. Sadly, that’s about all that is certain.