SPOKANE COUNTY -- Now that Washington voters made it legal to possess marijuana recreationally, local authorities are wondering just how the change in the law will impact their duties.
Washington’s Initiative 502 decriminalizes the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana beginning December 6, but it is still illegal on the federal level.
The state has one year to come up with rules governing the growing, processing and labeling of pot before sales to adults over 21 can begin.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich plans to meet with U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby, as well as local legislators in the next few weeks to talk about how to move forward.
The Sheriff said the new law is not clear, and he believes it will lead to more crime in the community. Knezovich denied claims from supporters that making marijuana legal will free up the law enforcement community to investigate more serious crimes. He said it will be difficult for his deputies to regulate how much marijuana people are buying, who is buying it, and who is selling it. Officers will also need additional training to recognize if drivers are using the drug.
The big question is whether the federal government will allow I-502 to take effect without a fight. The Justice Department is offering no enlightenment on that front.
"The Department of Justice's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," read identical statements issued by the U.S. attorney's offices in Denver and Seattle. "The department is reviewing the ballot initiative here and in other states and has no additional comment at this time."
State laws can be ruled invalid when they "frustrate the purpose" of federal law, and the DOJ could sue to try to block the measures from taking effect on those grounds.
Knezovich said as of now, all he can do is follow State law and see what happens when the federal authorities get involved.
“We'll see what comes out and we will deal with the aftermath. I'm just praying that the aftermath isn't worse than what we already have,” Knezovich said.
(Ashley Korslien contributed to this report)