Spokane North Notes

A weekly bulletin of the Spokane-North Rotary Club

September 8, 2014

Editors: Chuck Rehberg and Sandy Fink

Program Chair: Jim Minkler

Photo:  Eric Johnson

          Welcome back!: Among the visitors in a packed meeting room Aug. 8 were past club president Diana Riggins and Brad Stark, former club member and former Spokane city councilman.  Diana and Rig Riggins still live in Pittsburgh, where Rig leads the YMCA.  Diana said the couple plans to return to Spokane when their five-year commitment in Pennsylvania ends.  Brad recounted some of his bike-riding adventures, including climbing the steep Hatch Road hill.

          Three more weeks: The club’s tenure at the Red Lion River Inn ends with the Sept. 28 club luncheon.  Our Oct. 6 meeting will be at the Lincoln Center, just northwest of the Spokane Veterans Arena.  Three more weeks to enjoy the views of the Spokane River and the midday joggers and walkers.

Pot ‘high’ on AG’s priority list

Image          There was so much talk about legalized marijuana at the club’s Sept. 8 luncheon that diners even eyed the plates of dessert cookies suspiciously, wondering (hoping?) which, if any, might be considered “infused edibles” under the new law.

          Stirring the pot (sorry) on the legalization topic was Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

          Ferguson, 49, a Democrat, is an energetic fourth-generation Washingtonian whose career closely parallels his predecessor, Rob McKenna.  Both were University of Washington student presidents.  And both were nine-year King County Councilmen before being elected Attorney General.  The state’s top law position opened in 2012 when McKenna ran for governor against Jay Inslee.  Ferguson beat fellow King County Council member Reagan Dunn by 200,000 votes to become the state’s 18th AG.

          Though the office technically confers “General” on the occupant, Ferguson quipped that “I only make my four older brothers call me General.”

          Ferguson, an internationally-ranked chess master, said he thought as a youngster about moving to Europe and making a career of chess.  After a year or so, he returned to enroll at UW, completed law school at New York University and began his legal career clerking for Frem Neilsen, the Federal District Court judge for Eastern Washington.

          After four years as a litigator for the Preston Gates Ellis firm in Seattle, Ferguson was elected to the King County Council, representing northeast Seattle and Bothell.

          Addressing a packed meeting room, Ferguson said he loves talking to Rotary Clubs, noting this was his 25th or 26th club visit since his election two years ago.  “My goal is to hit 50 in my four-year term,” he said.

          As AG, Ferguson directs 500 attorneys and 600 other professional staffers providing legal services to 27 divisions of state government.

          His priorities include consumer protection, community safety by supporting law enforcement, protecting the environment and advocating for veterans and service men and women.

          Recent notable cases include Hanford cleanup of nuclear waste and civil commitment of sexual predators to the McNeill Island correctional facility, including Scott Halvorson, 54, of Spokane, a convicted sex offender.

          But marijuana dominated the discussion.

          Ferguson said, “whether I agree or not (with legalizing recreational pot) – and I voted against the initiative – my job is to defend it.” Image He added: “Let the Legislature worry about policy; it’s my job to interpret the law.”

         Of those infused edibles, like brownies and cookies, he said, “Colorado has had tragic outcomes, including one man’s suicide” by overdosing.  So he supports the Liquor Board’s close scrutiny of packaging, especially not inviting use by children.  Ferguson has 6-year-old twins.

         A recent legal battle ensued over Fife’s city council vote to “opt out” of allowing shops to sell recreational marijuana.  “My opinion is that local jurisdictions -- cities and counties – can opt out.  In the Fife decision a week ago, the court said that the state doesn’t require them to sell marijuana.

        With the Fife case, as with many other pot-related issues, a legal minefield has grown over where state law applies and where federal law applies, Ferguson said.  A number of the issues may be headed to state and federal Supreme Courts, he said.  An aide said after the meeting that about a dozen lawyers on the AG’s staff work primarily on marijuana issues.

         In the question session after his talk, Ferguson agreed that bank involvement in funding shops or handling proceeds “may be violations of federal law” and changes in the laws may be required to sort things out.

         Businesses can still drug-test employees for marijuana use, he said, and federal grants and federal narcotics-handling licenses by health care practitioners may technically violate some federal laws until remedies are achieved.  “There are no easy answers,” Ferguson concluded, adding, “legalization of marijuana has consumed most of my time.”

        Member Jim Minkler prefaced a question by saying, “lest you think all we care about is marijuana”…and asked about full funding for K-12 education.

         “Is the Legislature in contempt for not fully funding education?” Ferguson asked rhetorically.

         The court gave the Legislature until 2018 to fully fund education as its “paramount duty,” Ferguson said and a progress report is due on the $4.5 billion issue.  The AG said he hopes no contempt action will be forthcoming, at least until the 2015 Legislative session is completed.