WASHINGTON voters acted boldly last November to begin reforming our nation’s failed policy on marijuana. It was an act of leadership, in stark contrast to the inertia that has perpetuated the failed war on drugs for the past 42 years.
Since then, state regulators have worked diligently to create the world’s first fully regulated recreational marijuana market, and Gov. Jay Inslee took the state’s case to Washington, D.C.
But the state’s most important allies in this risky political fight — its 12-member congressional delegation — have remained mostly silent.
In a round of calls to the delegation’s offices last week, marijuana policy reform seemed a distant distraction. Three of the members did not even respond to repeated emails and calls.
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They appear to have missed the memo sent by 56 percent of voters in November: Washington voters want legalized marijuana.
Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder said that after four months of review the Department of Justice would respond “soon” to marijuana-legalization laws in Washington and Colorado.
Our two states need champions in Congress, and now. We need pressure applied to the DOJ and the White House. Silence will be interpreted as acquiescence to the status quo of marijuana prohibition.
Only Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, signed onto a letter after the election urging DOJ to back off. Even Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, whose Seattle constituency approved I-502 by 74 percent, appears strangely disconnected .
Seven different bills are pending in Congress that would alleviate some federal-state conflicts on recreational or medical marijuana. The most direct fix is HR 499, co-sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. It would end federal pre-emption on marijuana policy, allowing states to go their own way.
None of our delegation has signed on to it, or related bills. Instead, Colorado, California and Oregon lawmakers are leading the way. “I think some of them need a little nudge,” Blumenauer said of Washington’s delegation.
Nudge, nudge. Most of Washington’s delegation opposed Initiative 502, the legalization measure. Only McDermott, Smith and freshman Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, voiced support before the election. Others in the delegation now say they’ll help ensure I-502’s implementation.
If they’re serious, they should take action. Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, for example, has the power from her seat on the Senate Finance Committee to push for changes in banking laws and policies that would help the marijuana industry access banking.
Circulate a letter. Press the Obama administration. Sign on to, and advocate for, legislation intended to do what Washington voters endorsed: a new approach to marijuana.
The politics of marijuana have changed. State leaders — from Inslee to Attorney General Bob Ferguson to local and state elected officials from both parties — understand that.
When will our congressional delegation?