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Originally published Friday, January 18, 2013 at 8:45 PM

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State, federal leaders to confer on pot policy

As Washington state prepares for a legal-marijuana industry, questions loom about whether the federal government will crack down or look away. Gov. Jay Inslee will meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder next week to learn more.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss marijuana enforcement and implementation of Initiative 502, our state’s voter-approved legal-pot law.

The state law conflicts with federal law, which maintains that all forms of marijuana are illegal.

As the state begins to establish regulations for a new, legal marijuana industry, and investors prepare to plow money into it, questions loom about whether the federal government will crack down on Washington or look the other way.

“We know there are issues with federal enforcement,” said Inslee spokesman David Postman. He said Inslee and Ferguson want to talk about those face-to-face with Holder. “I’d say this is the start of a substantive conversation,” Postman said.

The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.

Janelle Guthrie, spokeswoman for Ferguson, said she expects “a broad-based discussion at this point of implementation and enforcement” with Holder, the country’s top law officer. Guthrie said she wasn’t aware of specific questions Inslee and Ferguson plan to ask.

President Obama has said recreational pot smoking in Colorado and Washington, the two states that have legalized it, is not a major concern for his administration.

“We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News last month. “It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal.”

But some pot advocates remain leery because earlier statements from the administration that it wouldn’t interfere with individual medical-marijuana users were followed by crackdowns on dispensaries and others who grew and sold the pot. The Justice Department has declined to say whether it would file a lawsuit to block the laws.

Local law-enforcement leaders also are awaiting clearer signs from the federal government about its intentions.

Holder said last month he would announce a policy on the new state laws “relatively soon.”

In a statement following Obama’s comment about pot last month, Inslee said “I believe there is good reason to be confident that our state will move forward.”

Postman said he hopes to report next week on what Inslee learned from meeting with Holder.

Meanwhile, the agency charged with implementing Washington’s new pot law is seeking consultants with expertise the state lacks in matters such as marijuana quality and consumption habits.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board will be drafting regulations to implement I-502 in months to come.

The board on Thursday issued a “request for proposals,” looking for consulting services in four categories: product and industry knowledge; product-quality standards and testing; product usage and consumption validation; and product regulation.

Consultants can bid in any or all of the categories. Experience as illegal growers or sellers would not disqualify them, according to liquor-board spokesman Brian Smith.

Potential bidders can question state officials at a Jan. 30 conference in Tacoma, with an exact time and location still to be determined. Feb. 15 is the deadline for bids, with contracts to be awarded the following month.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

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