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In 2012, Washington and Colorado voters made history when they approved measures to legalize recreational marijuana. Washington Initiative 502 “authorizes the state liquor board to regulate and tax marijuana for persons twenty-one years of age or older.”Since the vote in Washington, the Liquor Board has written a complex set of rules for the state’s new, legal recreational cannabis marketplace. The agency has also set limits on the amount of marijuana that can be grown. And the Board has begun to license growers, processors and retailers.For now, the Obama administration has signaled it will not interfere with Washington and Colorado’s legal pot experiment, unless there is evidence that legal pot is “leaking” to other states or children are getting access to the legal product. The feds are also watching to see if criminal organizations exploit the legal market.The first marijuana retail stores in Washington opened in July 2014.Recreational marijuana is also set to become legal in Oregon on July 1, 2015 after voters approved Measure 91 in November 2014.

Feds To Allow Washington, Colorado Pot Legalization With Caveats

Washington Office of the Governor. Washington Governor Jay Inslee takes notes while talking with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

It was the call Governor Jay Inslee has been waiting for since the beginning of the year. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder giving Washington – and Colorado – the green light to proceed with marijuana legalization. But the feds reserve the right to intervene if they see problems.

Not that the states were in a holding pattern. But Inslee clearly appreciated finally getting clear guidance from the other Washington. Here he was at a hastily called news conference at the Capitol.

“What I’m hearing from the federal government is that they believe there’s a reason to trust the states of Colorado and Washington," Inslee said. "But we need to show it on the ground. We need to show it in the real world.”

Inslee vows tight regulations and strict enforcement, but also acknowledges no system will be “foolproof.”

In a statement, the Department of Justice said if there are problems – like leakage to other states or kids getting their hands on legal pot – then “federal prosecutors will act aggressively.” The Department of Justice also still reserves the right to sue the states at a later date.

To avoid problems, Inslee says it’s vital Washington address what is now an unregulated medical marijuana market.

The ACLU’s Alison Holcomb agrees. She led the campaign to legalize recreational marijuana. “We have a new regulatory system in place and we should be able to bring medical marijuana into line with our goals of keeping marijuana under control.”

In recent years, there have been high profile federal raids on medical marijuana operations on both sides of the Cascades.

Another potential problem area is how legal marijuana businesses can bank their money. Governor Inslee says Attorney General Holder expressed a willingness to work with the states on a solution that doesn’t “run afoul of federal law.”

On the Web:

Marijuana enforcement policy update - US Department of Justice
Gov. Inslee's full response - Office if the Governor

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."