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Originally published Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 7:58 PM

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DOJ urged to avoid pot showdown with state

Seven members of Washington’s congressional delegation are urging U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to assure that the federal government won’t penalize pot users and sellers “for activities legal under state law.”

Seattle Times Washington bureau

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WASHINGTON — Seven congressional Democrats from Washington are pressing the U.S. Department of Justice to honor the state’s new recreational-marijuana law — the delegation’s first collective public statement on the issue.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder released Tuesday, the Democrats urged quick action by the agency to assure pot users and sellers they won’t be “penalized by the federal government for activities legal under state law.”

Initiative 502, which was approved by 56 percent of voters last November, legalizes possession of small amounts of pot by adults. But marijuana for any use, recreational or medical, remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

“We hope that you will exercise your significant discretionary authority by choosing not to ... prosecute our residents and state employees acting in compliance with these laws,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter also said state regulators were working to keep tight reins on the pot market, including preventing marijuana exports and black markets.

The letter was signed by Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and Reps. Adam Smith of Bellevue, Jim McDermott of Seattle, Suzan DelBene of Medina, Denny Heck of Olympia and Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor.

Smith, McDermott, DelBene and Heck voted for I-502; Cantwell, Murray and Kilmer did not.

Pot advocates in the state have become increasingly critical of what they view as the delegation’s lack of effort to reconcile the state-federal legal conflict. Smith was the only member from Washington to sign a similar letter to Holder last year.

The eighth Democrat, Everett’s Rick Larsen, did not sign the new letter. He also opposed I-502.

Larsen is at the Paris Air Show this week at the behest of Gov. Jay Inslee. Larsen’s spokesman, Bryan Thomas, said Larsen chose not to sign because “the Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing federal laws. Congressman Larsen believes the state must work with the Department of Justice to determine a way forward.”

The delegation’s four House Republicans also opposed I-502: Dave Reichert of Auburn, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Camas, and Doc Hastings of Pasco.

The state Liquor Control Board, the agency charged with creating a legal marijuana system, is expected to issue draft rules for that system July 3. Retail pot stores would open next year.

Kyung Song: 202-383-6108 or ksong@seattletimes.com

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