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Washington State Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bill

Office of Gov. Chris Gregoire(OLYMPIA, Wash.) -- Under threat of the federal government, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed key pieces of a medical marijuana law, saying she doesn't want to put state employees at risk of federal criminal charges.

"I will not subject my state employees to federal prosecution -- period," said Gregoire, who worries what would happen if the state started licensing medical marijuana dispensaries and growing operations, which are legal under state law, but not federal law.

The legislation in question, Senate Bill 5073, would create a system of state-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries, patient registries and cooperative growing gardens.

But the U.S. attorneys for Washington state, Mike Orsmby and Jenny Durkan, said in a letter to the governor on April 14 that marijuana use is still a federal crime and anyone helping make that use possible, such as a state employee at a patient registry, could be prosecuted.

"Growing, distributing and possessing marijuana in any capacity, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws permitting such activities," Ormsby and Durkan wrote. "State employees who conducted activities mandated by the Washington legislative proposals would not be immune from liability under the Controlled Substance Act."

A union that represents thousands of state employees asked Gregoire to veto the bill.

Medical marijuana user Rob White, a paraplegic from being gunned down during a robbery 15 years ago, favors state control of dispensaries and growing operations, and better protection against arrest.

"I think as people who are sick and dying, (we) should not have to live in fear of losing our freedom for using something that helps make life a little more bearable," White said.

A medical marijuana bill was approved in Washington in 1998, making it legal for patients to grow the the plant themselves or designate a caregiver to grow it for them. But since then, even though the state law does not allow for the sale of marijuana, marijuana dispensaries have been established across the state.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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