Worries about feds not grounded in reality?

At Monday’s council workshop on marijuana retail outlets, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt asked City Attorney Ted Gathe about the fears expressed by county commissioners that employees will be busted by the feds for issuing licenses, a concern commissioners voiced when they were fretting about allowing collective gardens for medical marijuana.

In 2012, the commissioners had policy advisor Axel Swanson send a letter to U.S. Attorney Eric Holder, after his agency said state employees would not be immune from liability under the Controlled Substances Act. In Swanson’s letter, he wrote: “Specifically, the Board of Clark County Commissioners wants to know whether that would also be true if county employees are asked to knowingly zone, review, permit and inspect facilities for producing, processing, transporting and delivering medical cannabis. Would the Board of Clark County Commissioners or county employees be immune from arrest and liability when, in the course of their jobs, they do work related to zoning, review of permits and inspections of these facilities?”

In a response from Joseph T. Rannazzisi, deputy assistant administrator of the Office of Diversion Control, the answer was clear: “anyone who knowingly carries out the marijuana activities contemplated by Washington state law, as well as anyone who facilitates such activities, or conspires to commit such violations, is subject to criminal prosecution as provided in the CSA. That same conclusion would apply with equal force to the proposed activities of the Board of Clark County Commissioners and Clark County employees.”

“Such persons may also be subject to money laundering statutes,” Rannazzisi threw in for good measure.

Gathe told Leavitt on Monday that Gov. Chris Gregoire had enough concerns that she vetoed sections of a legislative bill that was meant to provide a structure to regulate and license the use, distribution and processing of medical marijuana.

But that was way back in 2012.

“I can’t find a single instance in the United States where this has happened, so I’m not sure that it is a real threat,” Gathe said on Monday. He said the fear is a point officials could cite as a reason why they don’t want to implement Initiative 502; commissioners have said they won’t allow marijuana businesses until the federal ban is lifted. 

“But in terms of reality, we couldn’t find any evidence that this has occurred anywhere in the country,” Gathe said.

Here’s a clip of the exchange between Leavitt and Gathe.

Stephanie Rice

Stephanie Rice

I cover Vancouver city government. Reach me at stephanie.rice@columbian.com or 360-735-4508.

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