By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
PORTLAND — A proposed law that would force the federal government to respect state marijuana laws is gaining bipartisan support, but U.S. representatives from Washington state aren’t so stoked.
It would be a lot cooler if they were, advocates say.
Just one out of 10 Washington reps have signed on as a co-sponsor to the Respect Marijuana Laws Act of 2013, despite 56 percent of Washingtonians voting in November to legalize marijuana for recreational use. The law would allow states to set medical and recreational marijuana policy without interference from the federal government, which still considers pot an illegal substance.
“I am deeply concerned about the conflicts between federal and state law,” U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-District 9, said in an email. Smith is the only congressman from Washington state to sign onto the bill, introduced April 12.
“While it is legal to possess and use a limited quantity of marijuana under state law, marijuana remains an illegal substance under federal statutes. This lack of clarity is unacceptable.”
It appears Smith is the only Washington lawmaker willing to back the legislation, at least now. A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, R-District 7, said McDermott has supported similar initiatives, but his office couldn’t yet comment as to where he stands on the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act. McDermott’s district includes Seattle, where 76 percent of residents voted in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Bryan Thomas, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-District 2, said Thomas doesn’t, for the time being, plan to sign on as a co-sponsor. He wouldn’t say whether Larson would vote for it or not if it comes to a vote. The bill has 15 co-sponsors — 12 Democrats and three Republicans — and sits in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.
It might as well get comfortable, some say. Colorado voters also have approved legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
“That’s a very unlikely bill to come up,” Thomas said, referencing the Republican-led House. But the bill’s main sponsor is Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California.
The “it’s not likely to pass” attitude is a frustrating for those who believe it’s an important initiative, and Washingtonians looking to get into the pot business would prefer to stop looking over their shoulders.
Bailey Hirschburg is a National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws representative from Thurston County. Hirschburg said he recently approached a member of Congress — he would not name the lawmaker — about the issue. The lawmaker, however, has yet to dedicate a staff to review and study the issue.
Advocates fear political anxiety and a wait-and-see attitude from Washington lawmakers could ultimately kill the bill.
Kevin Oliver, executive director of the Washington chapter of NORML, said he’s not surprised by lawmakers’ reticence.
“We’re walking around here with the actual state that is the experiment. I think they’re looking at this very politically and they’re just not willing to throw the dice when it’s happening in this state, regardless of whether this bill happens or not.”
NORML and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington State are calling on Washingtonians to contact their federal representatives and urge them to sign onto the Respect Marijuana Laws Act.
Oliver said it shouldn’t take new legislation to protect the will of the people, given that the U.S. Constitution already provides for states’ rights via the 10th Amendment..
“In one way it’s just a reiteration of the American way,” he said.
One fear, Oliver said, is that the legal marijuana shops could open for a couple of years before the feds swoop in and wipe it all out.
Russ Belville, former outreach coordinator for NORML in Oregon and current executive director of 420radio.org, said passing the bill would show a respect for the will of the people. As it stands, should an area of the state disagree with the marijuana laws, people can use an “it’s not legal federally” excuse to shut them down.
“A minority can obstruct the will of the majority,” he said.
Contact Shelby Sebens at Shelby@NorthwestWatchdog.org
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