Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

PO Box 40109
Olympia, WA 98504-0109


The Agriculture and Health Division is comprised of 14 attorneys and 10 professional staff.  The division provides legal advice and litigation services to the Department of Health and its associated boards, commissions and committees; State Board of Health; Department of Agriculture; 24 Commodity Commissions; Department of Commerce and its associated boards, commissions and committees; Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation; Life Sciences Discovery Fund Authority; and Northwest Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management.

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Legal Services Provided

The division provides a full range of representation to its clients, including both legal advice and litigation services. Work for the Department of Health involves the oversight of health care practitioners and facilities and the regulation of activities that may pose threats to human health, such as preparing food, harvesting shellfish, providing public drinking water and disposing of radioactive wastes. The division also supports Department of Health programs for community health, epidemiology and health statistics. The division's work with the Department of Commerce includes assisting with its outreach to other state agencies and local governments on the Growth Management Act (GMA) and providing legal advice to their business development, economic assistance, housing services, energy policy, community services, WorkFirst and international trade programs.

The division assists the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation in the review of archaeological site permitting, civil enforcement of permit requirements and in the designation and protection of historic and archaeological resources in Washington. The division assists the Department of Agriculture in eradicating and controlling serious plant and insect pests (such as Spartina, Sudden Oak Death, Gypsy Moth, and Citrus Long-horned Beetle), protecting animal health, overseeing food safety, protecting the economic viability of agricultural commodities and enforcing the grades and standards laws related to shipping and exporting billions of dollars worth of Washington’s agricultural products.

The Life Sciences Discovery Fund Authority administers grants to foster advances in life science research and development of bioscience industries in Washington. The Northwest Compact regulates the disposal of low-level radioactive waste within an eight state region. Washington state provides staff for the compact, and the assigned Assistant Attorney General from the division serves as the compact’s General Counsel.

The Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture are key agencies in assisting the Governor in emergency preparedness for a variety of events, including pandemic flu, avian influenza, West Nile Virus, chemical and radiological events and animal health emergencies. The Office of Energy in the Department of Commerce also is involved in preparing for emergencies which damage the energy infrastructure. The division continues to assist these agencies with legal issues in preparing for, and responding to, agricultural, health and energy emergency events.

The division provides advice to these agencies regarding emergency preparedness planning and response.

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The majority of the division’s cases are administrative disciplinary actions against health professionals. These hearings have become increasingly complex. The division anticipates increasing numbers of disciplinary actions and requests for client advice as the Department of Health implements legislative mandates to license new health professionals, such as medical assistants. In addition, the division handles numerous cases involving the placement and construction of new health care facilities through the certificate of need process, as well as actions against the licenses of existing facilities.

The Department of Agriculture is responsible for controlling plant and insect pests that threaten the state’s agricultural commodities, regulating the commercial application of pesticides, controlling and isolating diseased animals and helping to ensure a clean and safe food supply.

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Significant Cases

Stormans, et al. v. Selecky, et al., 9th Circuit Court of Appeals:  In 2007, the Pharmacy Board adopted two rules recognizing that individual pharmacists could choose to not dispense medications for any reason, however, as the pharmacy licensee must assure that patients’ access to time-sensitive, lawful medications were not impeded.  Plaintiffs are a pharmacy, operating at Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia, and two pharmacists, not associated with Ralph’s Thriftway, who claim that the board’s rules impair their free exercise of religion protected under the First Amendment and violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Plaintiffs object to stocking and dispensing the emergency contraceptives, Plan B and ella.  The Western District Court ruled against the state Defendants and held that the rules were unconstitutional as applied to the three Plaintiffs.  State Defendants have appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  

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Major Issues

Emergency Management:  DOH is working with neighboring states, Canadian provinces and representatives from the federal government to implement via a memoranda of understanding and operational plans a congressionally approved emergency management agreement (the Pacific Northwest Emergency Management Arrangement or “PNEMA”), so we can better coordinate and manage resources across the border and with our neighboring states during major disasters.  DOH also is working with a diverse group of stakeholders in the medical community to develop standards of care for crisis situations, including natural disasters and epidemics.

Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation:  The Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) has review and permitting authority under state statutes governing the preservation of historic resources and the discovery, investigation and protection of archaeological resources and human remains. DAHP also has responsibilities under the National Historic Preservation Act to conduct reviews of federal projects that may have an impact on historic resources and archaeology. The office of State Physical Anthropologist within DAHP has the duty to take custody of inadvertently discovered, non-forensic skeletal human remains and determine if the remains are Indian or non-Indian. DAHP must notify affected tribes and appropriate local cemeteries when DAHP receives notice of a finding of non-forensic skeletal human remains. DAHP retains jurisdiction over such remains until provenance is determined. DAHP also administers a skeletal human remains assistance account to be used only for archaeological determinations and excavations of inadvertently discovered remains and removal and reinterment of such remains, when necessary. Division attorneys assisted DAHP in these responsibilities.

Medical Marijuana: Initiative 502, to be submitted to the voters in November 2012, would legalize marijuana and tax sales. Pending the outcome of that initiative, the division continues to advise the Medical Quality Assurance Commission in its consideration of petitions to approve additional qualifying conditions for the use of medical marijuana.

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