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caption: Legal marijuana sales exceeded $1.3 billion in Washington state in fiscal year 2017.
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Legal marijuana sales exceeded $1.3 billion in Washington state in fiscal year 2017.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Bond Huberman

Washington officials vow to uphold marijuana market, call federal decision 'backwards'

Washington state officials are calling the Trump administration's decision to scrap marijuana guidelines "backwards" and "disappointing."

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded federal guidelines Thursday (namely the 2013 “Cole memo” and 2009 “Ogden memo”) that paved the way for medical and recreational marijuana markets.

Washington voters approved the growth and sales of recreational marijuana in a 2012 initiative. Governor Jay Inslee said there will be no changes to marijuana policy in the state.

Inslee says the real drug epidemic Washington and other states are facing is over opioid abuse and deaths.

"We wish they would be more concerned about an epidemic that is eating our country alive, rather than chasing the past on marijuana," Inslee said.

Inslee spoke at an Associated Press legislative forum Thursday, alongside state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Ferguson says it's unclear what Sessions intends to do about marijuana, since his announcement did not include any mention of future regulations. But Ferguson says his office is dedicated to defending the will of Washington’s voters on marijuana.

"We are very, very well positioned from a legal standpoint," Ferguson said. "Our legal arguments have been crafted, we are prepared, we're not messing around."

He said U.S. Department of Justice officials have refused to meet with the state about pot regulations.

Washington state lawmakers say they anticipated the move from Sessions and are ready to take action. Democratic state Representative David Sawyer says he's sponsoring a bill to refuse any state help to the federal government on marijuana enforcement. The bill would prohibit state agencies from helping the federal government crack-down on legal marijuana businesses or people possessing small amounts of pot.

Sawyer: "The hundreds of millions of dollars that we raise every year is helping fund our schools, it's helping fund our opioid addiction clinics, it helps fund children's healthcare, and we have been extremely united in regulating this in a very bi-partisan way."

Representative Sawyer also spoke at the Associated Press legislative forum.

Marijuana is a big industry in Washington, bringing in roughly $1.3 billion in legal sales in fiscal 2017, according to the state Liquor and Cannabis Board. Those sales generated more than $300 million in excise taxes in 2017, which the state uses for schools and other programs.

The legislative session starts Monday.

Updated 1/5/2018 with information about bill being introduced in Washington State Legislature.