Web Producer: Lucy Valencia, Assignment Desk Editor
SEATTLE (AP) — So far, no one is suggesting checkpoints or fences to keep Washington state's legal pot within its borders.
But Gov. Jay Inslee insists there are ways to prevent the bulk smuggling of the state's newest cash crop into the black market, including digitally tracking weed to ensure that it goes from where it is grown to the stores where it is sold.
With sales set to begin later this year, he hopes to be a good neighbor and keep vanloads of premium, legal bud from cruising into Idaho, Oregon and other states that don't want people getting stoned for fun.
It's not just about generating goodwill with fellow governors. Inslee is trying to persuade U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder not to sue to block Washington from licensing pot growers, processors and sellers. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
"I am going to be personally committed to have a well regulated, well disciplined, well tracked, well inventory-controlled, well law-enforcement-coordinated approach," said Inslee, who expects to give Holder more details by next week.
Keeping a lid on the weed is just one of the numerous challenges Washington state authorities and their counterparts in Colorado — where voters also legalized pot use — will face in the coming months.
The potential of regulatory schemes to keep pot from being diverted isn't clear. Colorado already has intensive rules aimed at keeping its medical marijuana market in line, including the digital tracking of cannabis, bar codes on every plant, surveillance video and manifests of all legal pot shipments.
But law enforcement officials say marijuana from Colorado's dispensaries often makes its way to the black market, and even the head of the Colorado agency charged with tracking the medical pot industry suggests no one should copy its measures.
The agency has been beset by money woes and had to cut many of its investigators. Even if the agency had all the money it wanted, the state's medical pot rules are "a model of regulatory overreach," too cumbersome and expensive to enforce, Laura Harris said in a statement.
Last fall, voters made Washington and Colorado the first states to pass laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and setting up systems of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores where adults over 21 can walk in and buy up to an ounce of heavily taxed cannabis.
Both states are working to develop rules for the emerging pot industry.
The Obama administration could sue to block the legal markets from operating, on the grounds that actively regulating an illegal substance conflicts with federal drug law. The DOJ is reviewing the laws but has given no signals about its plans.
It has never sued states like Colorado that have regulated medical marijuana, even though it could under the same legal principles.
Part of the DOJ's political calculus in deciding whether to sue is likely to be how well the department believes the two states can keep the legal weed within their borders. During a meeting with Inslee last week, Holder asked a lot of questions about diversion, Inslee said.
Alison Holcomb, who led Washington's legal pot campaign, said it's important to respect states that haven't legalized weed by not flooding their black markets. The first step, she said, is for the state to figure out how much pot should be produced, and then grant licenses accordingly.
"Excess supply creates incentive to divert outside the state," she said.
Washington's Liquor Control Board is planning a comprehensive survey to estimate how much marijuana is consumed in the state.
Inslee has boasted about the effectiveness of the State Patrol's highway interdiction program in stopping drug trafficking. Traditional police work, combined with inventory controls, will be key to clamping down on diversion, he said.
Digital tracking of the weights of marijuana shipments between processors and retailers would help make sure there isn't "10- to 20-percent shrinkage that's going to the black market," he said.
But even if the state can prevent bulk pot from being diverted, there's nothing to keep customers from walking into multiple stores, or returning to the same store, to collect more than their 1-ounce limit. Some traffickers could recruit many people to buy weed for them.
Tom Gorman, head of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug-Trafficking Area, said efforts to keep a lid on legal marijuana simply don't work.
Pot from Colorado's medical marijuana system — often described as the most closely regulated in the world — routinely makes its way into Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and points east, often from dispensaries that have sold out the back door, he said.
A brief law enforcement survey the organization conducted last summer turned up numerous cases in which suspects had made purchases at Colorado dispensaries before being busted in other states.
In the past two years, Colorado's medical pot regulators have levied 54 fines against licensed businesses, but have never revoked or suspended a license.
Matt Cook, the former director of Colorado's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, defended the "seed-to-store" regulations in the state.
Cook, who is applying for a job as a consultant to Washington's marijuana regulators, noted that at any time officials could check the digital records, pull the surveillance video or drop in for an inspection — and the fear of getting busted keeps people in line.
Bob Hoban, whose law firm represents nearly 100 medical marijuana businesses in Colorado, agreed, and noted another incentive for dispensaries to behave.
"It's a cutthroat business," he said. "If somebody sees something unusual, they're going to provide a tip. ... There's just about as good of a safeguard as you can have for diversion in the state of Colorado, and a lot of that is Big Brother watching you."
Email Alert Sign Up
Sign up here to receive breaking news stories from KSWT.com and morning updates to your email inbox.
YUMA, Ariz. (13 On Your Side) – A man is facing first degree murder charges in connection to a San Luis stabbing that left one man dead and another wounded. Salvador Sigala, accused of stabbing a 25-year-oldMore >>
A man is facing first degree murder charges in connection to a San Luis stabbing that left one man dead and another wounded.More >>
EL CENTRO, CALIF. (13 On Your Side) - Officials have released some of the names of the people arrested during Wednesday's massive drug trafficking bust in Imperial Valley. But as we previously reported,More >>
Officials have released some of the names of the people arrested during Wednesday's massive drug trafficking bust in Imperial Valley.More >>
YUMA, Ariz. (13 On Your Side) – In a massive drug sting aimed at one of the most powerful Mexican drug cartels, the Imperial Valley Narcotics Task force arrested ten drug smugglers trafficking meth andMore >>
In a massive drug sting aimed at one of the most powerful Mexican drug cartels, the Imperial Valley Narcotics Task force arrested ten drug smugglers trafficking meth and cocaine across the border from Mexicali.More >>
BLYTHE, Calif. — U.S. Border Patrol agents from the Blythe Station found multiple weapons during a traffic stop. Agents pulled over a 2013 Ford Taurus near Blythe, Calif., and got consent to search theMore >>
U.S. Border Patrol agents from the Blythe Station found multiple weapons during a traffic stop.More >>
Former Cocopah police chief James Spurgeon will not face charges for shooting and killing 25-year-old josh collins. Police say Spurgeon acted in self defense. The deadly shooting happened on SaturdayMore >>
Police say Spurgeon acted in self defense. The deadly shooting happened on Saturday October 26th. More >>
TEMECULA, Calif. (AP) - A Riverside County father and teen daughter have each been placed on four years' probation after pleading guilty to charges in a vigilante attack on a man the girl had accused ofMore >>
The girl claimed Cruz raped her in November 2012 after she passed out after drinking alcohol at his home.More >>
YUMA, Ariz. (13 On Your Side) - Yuma police want to warn local residents of a high-risk sex offender who has relocated to a new area. Michael Degroot is now living in the 800 block of First Avenue. AlthoughMore >>
Yuma police want to warn local residents of a high-risk sex offender who has relocated to a new area.More >>
PHOENIX (AP) - Phoenix police say a 3-year-old boy being pushed in a stroller in a crosswalk was fatally injured when he was struck by a pickup truck at a midtown intersection. Sgt. Steve Martos saysMore >>
Phoenix police say a 3-year-old boy being pushed in a stroller in a crosswalk was fatally injured when he was struck by a pickup truck at a midtown intersection.More >>