Right to Be Paranoid

The controversial list that has medical-marijuana advocates terrified.

In a letter sent to the governor last Thursday, Washington's U.S. Attorneys Jenny Durkan and Michael Ormsby put the state on notice: If Washington enacts a bill that purports to legalize medical-marijuana dispensaries and growers, the feds will go after these entrepreneurs—and even the state workers who would be directed to regulate them. Maybe it's an idle threat, as some advocates of the bill claim. After all, the feds have not made good on similar threats in other states. But the warning does lend some justification to activists who have been up in arms over another part of the proposed bill. The bill calls for a new state registry of medical-marijuana patients, something that law-enforcement authorities have sought so they can have an easy way of checking whether people are legitimately entitled to pot. Although the registry would be voluntary, a last-minute amendment added in the House gives patients a compelling reason to sign up: Only those in the registry would be afforded protection from arrest. That sent some medical-marijuana advocates, like dispensary owner Steve Sarich, into a foaming rage. They have long treated the effort to create a registry as some kind of government plot to round up medical-marijuana users. Which sounded just a little paranoid. But now we have the feds saying that they're going to prosecute people who, according to the state, would be running legal businesses. (Under federal law they would still be illegal.) True, Durkan pointed out that her office, in accordance with new policies under President Obama, is not interested in medical-marijuana patients. But can you blame patients from wondering whether those policies might change with the vagaries of presidential politics? And if they do, whether the feds might want to get a gander at a handy list of pot smokers? The version of the bill that passed the House is now awaiting final Senate approval. In light of the U.S. Attorneys' letter, though, sponsor Jeanne Kohl-Welles obliquely told The Seattle Times, "We're looking at a brand-new approach."

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