The governor of Washington State has signed a bill to allow interstate marijuana commerce, pending a federal policy change.
The legislation from Sen. Ann Rivers (R) cleared the legislature last month, and Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed it into law on Thursday.
Before signing the bill, Inslee urged Congress to modernize national marijuana laws, saying that federal legalization “will help our well-regulated cannabis industry remain competitive, while still meeting health and public safety standards.”
He also quipped that Washington State needs a “pony express that goes east to get the message to Washington D.C., so if anybody’s got some fast horses, let’s put them to work here.”
As enacted, the measure will allow the governor to enter into agreement with other legal cannabis states, as soon as there’s federal reform “to allow for the interstate transfer of cannabis” or a federal Justice Department opinion “allowing or tolerating” marijuana commerce across state lines.
With this signing, all three Western coastal states are now positioned to allow instate imports and exports of cannabis. Oregon was the first state to take the step in 2019, followed by California last year.
The Washington bill stipulates that if either of the two federal conditions are met, state regulators will be required to provide a written notice of the policy change, as well as any state-level “statutory changes necessary to authorize the sale, delivery, and receipt of cannabis” from out-of-state companies.
Under California’s policy, however, the state attorney general could also trigger the implementation regardless of federal considerations. In January, state regulators requested that Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) prepare that guidance.
In Washington, regulators will also need to adopt rules that would be necessary for marijuana imports and exports. However, authority to actually enter agreements with other states will fall exclusively with the governor.
Products imported from out-of-state businesses would be required to comply with Washington regulations, including those concerning packaging and labeling.
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“With Governor Inslee’s signature, all three west coast states now have interstate commerce laws on the books,” Adam Smith, founder of the Alliance for Sensible Markets, told Marijuana Moment. “With Attorney General Merrick Garland’s having already promised DOJ guidance forthcoming, and that it will be tolerant of commercial activity in cannabis under state regulation, now is the time for the west coast governors to reach out to DOJ to urge them to be clear that their tolerance will extend to commerce between as well as within adult-use and medical markets.”
On the other side of the country, a Maine lawmaker recently filed a bill to allow marijuana imports and exports between legal states. New Jersey’s Senate president filed a similar interstate proposal last year, but it has not yet been enacted.
Also last year, a federal appellate court ruled that Maine’s law prohibiting non-residents from owning medical marijuana businesses in the state violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Some experts believe the same rationale invalidating the residency restrictions comes into play with state-level bans on marijuana imports and exports.
Disallowing imports and exports of medical cannabis between consenting states could be construed as similarly protectionist and unconstitutional, the thinking goes.
In November, an Oregon marijuana business filed a lawsuit in federal court, declaring that the state’s current ban on cannabis exports and imports to and from other states violates the Constitution.
Meanwhile, a Washington State bill to promote research into psilocybin and create a pilot program to provide therapeutic access to the psychedelic for mental health treatment is also pending action on the governor’s desk following final approval in the Senate.
This week, the governor also announced a special legislative session for lawmakers to prevent a drug decriminalization policy from taking effect following a state Supreme Court action.