NMG’s Johnson gets pot scoop, wins AP Beat of the Week

Gene Johnson

Gene Johnson

Seattle newsman and NMG member Gene Johnson scored last week’s AP Beat of the Week prize for a scoop on his legalized marijuana beat.

His exclusive revealed that in WashingtonState, there’s a huge hole in the process for being licensed to work in the state’s nascent pot industry.

Johnson, working on a tip from a longtime federal source, found that applicants were being issued state licenses without national background checks for criminal records, because the FBI has refused to do the checks. That’s despite the U.S. Justice Department insisting states make sure that criminals aren’t involved in the trade.

Working with fellow NMG member Kristin Wyatt in Colorado, the other state that’s legalized recreational marijuana use, Johnson learned the FBI has done pot-industry background checks there for a while.

Johnson got a Washington state Liquor Control Board spokesman to disclose that the FBI hadn’t responded to multiple board queries as to whether it would perform the checks. The Justice Department finally said it’s scrutinizing its policy to ensure a consistent national approach.