U.S. Attorney Brian Moran may not be willing to tolerate safe-injection sites in Western Washington, but the recently sworn-in Trump appointee in Seattle said Thursday he has no plan to interfere in the state’s legal marijuana market despite its conflict with federal drug laws.
“The voters have spoken,” Moran said in a wide-ranging interview Thursday, where he discussed his office’s priorities and promised open dialogue with state and local governments on issues where they disagree. The office’s 70-plus attorneys “have plenty of other things to pursue” and challenging the 2012 citizen’s initiative that legalized marijuana in Washington isn’t one of them, said Moran, the state’s top federal law-enforcement officer.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and there’s been no consensus in Congress on efforts to change it.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and others raised concerns after President Trump’s election that his first nominee for U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, would rescind the Obama administration’s promise to leave states that legalize marijuana alone. Sessions opposed any legalization and threatened to move against states where it was sold. He left the Department of Justice in November.
Attorney General William Barr, his replacement, has been more measured. Ten states, including the entire West Coast, and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. In all, 33 states allow cannabis use in some form.
“The nice thing about being the U.S. Attorney is that you are not a policymaker,” Moran said. “These are not decisions I have to worry myself with.”
That said, Moran says he is “astutely aware” of the issue and is watching to ensure Washington state lives up to promises to closely regulate cannabis and prevent it from leaking into states where it remains illegal. His office has continued to prosecute large illegal marijuana operations. “I am vigilant. It’s a ‘trust but verify’ issue.”
Moran, a former deputy Kitsap County prosecutor and deputy attorney general, said his 76 federal prosecutors and attorneys will focus on terrorism, hate and violent crime and large-scale, cartel-backed drug organizations that funnel methamphetamine, cocaine and increasing amounts of opioids into the state, destined for Canada and elsewhere. The amounts of those drugs — and the cash that flows from it — is staggering, he said. One recent case in his office named 53 defendants, he said.
“I think that was the biggest surprise — the sheer volume of the illegal drugs,” he said.
With the drugs have come guns. “We are awash in gun cases,” he said.
While an appointee of a president who is extremely unpopular in Western Washington, Moran said his long career in local law enforcement has eased his transition into the office. He pointed out that he has worked for Democrats and Republicans in his career and was chief of the criminal division when Democrat Christine Gregoire was the state Attorney General.
“I’m deeply humbled to have been nominated for this office by President Trump,” he said. Moran said U.S. Attorneys have a great deal of autonomy in their offices to set priorities, and he promised that his priorities will be “nonpolitical” and his responses measured.