This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.
Jenny Durkan, U.S. attorney for Western Washington, says marijuana shops shouldn’t operate within 1,000 feet of schools or playgrounds. Naughty, naughty.
One question: What about marijuana shops more than 1,000 feet away from schools and playgrounds? In Western Washington, hundreds of them continue to flip off every law in sight – and their neighbors to boot – while Durkan’s office shows little apparent interest beyond a few token busts.
On paper, Durkan – at the recent behest of Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama – says she won’t tolerate the trafficking of marijuana under the guise of “medicine.” Other U.S. attorneys are walking this talk seriously; they’ve been moving against hundreds of dispensaries in Eastern Washington, California and other states.
How is it possible to shut down commercial dispensaries in California, of all places, but so monumentally difficult in Western Washington? California’s medical marijuana law is far looser than Washington’s. Here, all sales of marijuana for any reason are explicitly outlawed. Even if voters approve a legalization measure on the November ballot, its tight terms – including FBI fingerprinting – would leave little room for stoner-to-stoner sales in pseudo-pharmacies.
Durkan’s counterpart in Eastern Washington, Michael Ormsby, has figured this out: He’s been methodically shutting down “medical” marijuana stores on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. Nothing comparable has been happening on this side of the state.
Durkan’s half-hearted approach continues to send the mixed signals the Obama administration telegraphed early in the president’s term.
In 2009, Holder said the Justice Department wouldn’t enforce federal drug laws against marijuana if individuals were in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state medical marijuana laws. At the same time, he dropped hints that he might look the other way as long as sellers didn’t brandish AK-47s, sell to 8-year-olds on the sidewalk, or keep bales of dope and $20 bills in the back room.
Pot entrepreneurs seized on the hints and ignored the “unambiguous compliance” part.
The result: a green rush. In a matter of months, dispensaries metastasized across Washington, abetted by quacks who churned out medical authorization papers like human printing presses. Abetted, too, by the Tacoma City Council and other local officials who told their police to look the other way.
The green rush is receding elsewhere, thanks to federal prosecutors, tax collectors and wised-up city councils. In Western Washington, though, the long arm of the U.S. attorney seems to stretch only 1,000 feet from schools.
How about parks, rehab clinics, video arcades, libraries, churches and child-care centers? Make that 1,000 miles from all of the above, and Durkan’s office would be getting the law right.