Inslee reports progress with feds over pot

Gov. Jay Inslee said he had a “very satisfying discussion” with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday and heard nothing to dissuade him from moving full speed ahead on setting up the legal marijuana industry sought by voters.

“I don’t believe we should put the brakes on that,” Inslee said.

Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson met with Holder to get a feel for whether the Department of Justice might try to block pot laws passed in Washington and Colorado since the drug is illegal under federal law.

Holder has been silent on how the federal government will respond and Tuesday gave no signal on “what direction he is heading or where he wants to end up,” Inslee said.

Yet the governor described the 45-minute meeting as a “confidence builder.”

He said he thinks Holder will give Washington “space to make our case” for setting up a system with tight enough regulations to keep pot from going outside the state’s borders “as much as humanly possible.”

Voters approved Initiative 502 in November to allow recreational use of marijuana by adults older than 21. It also calls for creation of state-licensed and regulated marijuana retail outlets.

Ferguson said Holder asked many questions about how it will be implemented and expressed concerns about the pot winding up in other states.

The two state leaders said they didn’t press Holder on when he might decide what the department will do. They did stress the state’s planning process is continuing.

“We particularly emphasized the issue of timing,” Ferguson said. “It is fair to say we made clear to Attorney General Holder we would need some clarity from the federal government in the coming months.”

The Washington State Liquor Control Board is holding a series of public forums on rules for getting the seed-to-sale industry up and running by 2014. The board hosted the first in Olympia on Tuesday night.

President Barack Obama said in December that battling the recreational use of marijuana by adults in Washington and Colorado is not a major concern for his administration.

“We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News. “It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal.”

Even so, Ferguson said he told Holder he’s prepared to defend the state law should Department of Justice lawyers try to block it in court.

“We want to avoid a legal fight with the federal government,” Ferguson said. “We will be prepared if it does go to a legal fight.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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