Michael Ormsby, the newly appointed U.S. Attorney for eastern Washington, has vowed to crack down on medical-marijuana dispensaries operating in Spokane. His younger brother Timm, a State Rep. from Spokane, has voted in favor of prescription pot in Washington in the past and is a Democrat--the party currently working to enact SB 5073, a bill that would overhaul the state's medical-marijuana laws and give greater freedom to pot dispensaries. Has the War on Drugs has turned these brothers against each other?
Michael Ormsby is anti-pot.
"My brother and I are very close," Michael Ormsby tells Seattle Weekly. "He's one of my closest friends. We've got seven brothers, but there's a lot of things we don't talk about. We did not talk about the Senate bill and what his vote was or wasn't going to be on it. We have a lot of lively discussions and debates, but we're a very close family, and no political issue or other issue has created problems for our family."
Timm Ormsby has not returned a call inquiring about his support of SB 5073. UPDATE 1:01 p.m. Timm Ormsby called to say that he and his brother don't necessarily disagree on the medical-marijuana issue, they're just doing their respective jobs.
"I don't think our positions are irreconcilable," the younger Ormsby says. "I know he's operating under the Obama/Holder administration position on the use of medical cannabis. I think the standard is conforming to state law. My interest is in clarifying the state law. I don't see those as opposites. I think the state law, everyone would agree, is very vague . . . it's about time we get it clarified."
And with that, Ormsby pledged to vote in favor of SB 5073 if/when it reaches the House floor.
Both Ormsby and Tom Rice, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office, did, however, make it abundantly clear that they're not messing around when it comes to prescription pot in Spokane. Rice reiterated what was stated in last week's press release, saying that all 40 dispensaries in Spokane are "operating outside of federal law" and will be subject to legal action if they don't shut down soon.
Timm Ormsby is pro-pot.
What type of legal action? According to Rice, dispensary operators could be subject to federal marijuana possession and distribution charges, while the landlords who rent to dispensaries could have their property seized through civil forfeiture and face criminal charges for "maintaining a drug establishment."
"The landlords have been advised that there's a [federal] statute for maintaining a drug establishment," Rice says. "That applies to anyone who maintains or assists or rents a facility or a building to distribute drugs illegally. It's a crime for landlords to knowingly assist in distribution of drugs by renting property to drug dealers."
Rice also disagreed with assertions that Michael Ormsby's hard-line stance on prescription pot flies in the face of Attorney General Eric Holder's statement in 2009 that the federal government will follow through on Obama's campaign promise and let states decide how to handle medical marijuana.
"That's a misreading of [Holder's] statement," Rice says. "I think people are conveniently reading isolated passages from his statement. Read the entire statement. It says distribution and dispensing of marijuana continues to be a violation and will be prosecuted."
Here's the official memo from the Justice Department outlining the new medical-marijuana enforcement policies. It says "As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."
It also says "Prosecution of commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority of the Department." That means that the eastern Washington U.S. Attorneys are contending that not a single one of the dispensaries in Spokane are legitimately providing medicine to patients.
"The current status of the law in Washington does not allow for dispensaries," Ormsby says. "If a medical-marijuana operation is operating within confines of state law, it's one thing, but there's no authorization for dispensaries, so any dispensary that's operating is not operating under guise of state law."
Asked whether SB 5073, the proposed overhaul of Washington's medical-marijuana laws currently making its way through the legislature, will have any bearing on the U.S. Attorney's policy, Ormsby replies, "We'll see what the law ends up saying and take a look how that law affects what's happening. At this point we have no idea if it's going to be approved, nor do we know specifically what it provides. We do know it's not going to allow for operations within school zones, which a number of ours do. That's our biggest priority, to eliminate those."
Timm Ormsby was one of 13 Democrats on the House Ways and Means committee that supported SB 5073 and kept the bill alive in the legislative process earlier this month. The bill now heads to the House Rules Committee, the final hurdle before a vote by the full State House of Representatives. Ormsby has consistently supported medical marijuana in Washington since he was elected in 2003. He voted in favor of both SB 5798 in 2009 and SB 6032 in 2007.
If SB 5073 eventually passes with Timm Ormsby's support, it might set the stage for an interesting--though civil--debate during the next Ormsby family reunion.
"We each have our own points of view," says Michael Ormsby. "And we were taught as kids to respect each other's points of view, whether it's a family member or someone else. There's no reason that should change today."