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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Former US Attorney Expects Organized Crime Will Target Legal Pot

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network

Fronts for organized crime may try to get a piece of the action as Washington moves to implement legalized marijuana. That’s the prediction of former US Attorney John McKay, a key supporter of Washington’s new pot law.

As US Attorney, John McKay prosecuted marijuana smugglers. Now he teaches law school and has become a visible activist in the legalization movement. McKay believes the regulated sale of pot to adult, recreational users is key to ending the border violence in Mexico. But he acknowledges the black market won’t go quietly into the night.

“Organized crime will attempt to exploit the Washington state legal market," McKay says. "They’ll apply for legal licenses, they will attempt to put up fronts, they may attempt to grow.”

McKay says state regulators and law enforcement will have to be vigilant. But he’s confident the legal market will ultimately prevail. McKay says look at what happened after prohibition ended.

“The rum runners and the bootleggers tried to put up legal fronts but eventually law enforcement prevailed, we got the bad guys out of the alcohol business and businesses, legitimate businesses took over alcohol and that’s what we want to have happen to marijuana.”

Even under that scenario, a black market could continue to exist in Washington. Take cigarettes for example. The state recently estimated more than one-third of cigarettes consumed are untaxed contraband.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."