Federal government explains role in Washington's new marijuana law

Federal government explains role in Washington's new marijuana law
CLARKSTON, WA - County prosecutors from the State of Washington made headway in their understanding of the Federal role in regard to the state's recently-passed marijuana legislation.

Reporter Veronica Miracle tells about the bleak future Asotin County Prosecutor Ben Nichols believes is in store for initiative supporters after taking part in a quarterly meeting with other prosecutors.

In December, Asotin County Prosecutor Ben Nichols traveled to Western Washington to meet with prosecutors from all over the state for an annual quarterly conference. And not surprisingly, a topic that took up a half-a-day of discussion was Initiative-502, the legalization of marijuana.

"Two of the most common reactions is this changes everything and this changes nothing," said Nichols. "Neither of those is accurate."

U.S. Attorneys Jenny Durkan and Michael Ormsby were there to answer lingering questions about what the federal government plans on doing.

"Everyone wants to know, what are the Feds going to do," said Nichols. "Well the U.S. Attorney flat out said, we are not going to be arresting people for possession of small amounts of marijuana."

However those who plan to distribute, grow or package marijuana won't be as lucky.

"If you have a for profit business that operates selling drugs, the Feds will step in," said Nichols.

And it's a decision that may not be cost effective.

"If one of the factors you have to consider is opening day, the feds could come in and seize your store, seize all your equipment, seize the land that you own that you've been growing marijuana on and take every penny that you've made or invested on, is that a good business decision?" said Nichols.

Some may wonder if the initiative is going to produce the tax revenue as promised, a key point that generated support from many hesitant voters, now that opportunities for marijuana businesses may be non-existent.

"So the promise of big money from tax dollars and licensing dollars is probably never going to come true," said Nichols.

Nichols believes it'll be years of litigation before the law makes a difference in the state and the country.

"And I think that if you're looking for a quick answer, a quick change in the drug laws in the federal government, you're not going to see it," said Nichols.

He says the federal government will have to demote marijuana from a significant controlled substance as it is categorized now for any change at the state level.

As mentioned, the carrying of a small amount of marijuana isn't something the federal government intends to prosecute citizens for. So if you're 21 and older, and carrying less than an ounce, you're in the clear as long as the government maintains that position.