The FBI is refusing to run nationwide background checks on people applying to run legal marijuana businesses in Washington state, even though it has conducted similar checks in Colorado, the Associated Press reports. The discrepancy illustrates the quandary the Justice Department faces as it allows states to experiment with regulating a drug that’s long been illegal under federal law. Washington state has asked for nearly a year if the FBI would conduct background checks on its applicants, to no avail. The bureau’s refusal raises the possibility that people with troublesome criminal histories could wind up with pot licenses in the state, undermining the Justice Department’s priorities in ensuring that states keep a tight rein on the nascent industry.
It’s a strange jam for the feds, who said last summer they wouldn’t sue to prevent Washington and Colorado from regulating marijuana after 75 years of prohibition. The Obama administration wants the states to make sure pot revenue doesn’t go to organized crime and that state marijuana industries don’t become a cover for the trafficking of other illegal drugs. The Justice Department wouldn’t explain why it isn’t conducting the checks in Washington when it has in Colorado.