Pubdate: Sun, 20 Feb 2011
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2011 The Seattle Times Company


MARIJUANA should be legalized, regulated and taxed. The push to repeal
federal prohibition should come from the states, and it should begin
with the state of Washington.

In 1998, Washington was one of the earliest to vote for medical
marijuana. It was a leap of faith, and the right decision. In 2003,
Seattle was one of the first places in America to vote to make simple
marijuana possession the lowest police priority. That, too, was a leap
of faith, and the right decision. A year ago, City Attorney Pete
Holmes stopped all prosecutions for simple possession: the right decision.

It is time for the next step. It is a leap, yes -- but not such a big
one, now.

Still, it is not an easy decision. We have known children who changed
from brilliant students to slackers by smoking marijuana at a young
age. We have also known of many users who have gone on to have
responsible and successful lives. One of them is president of the
United States.

Like alcohol, most people can handle marijuana. Some

There is a deep urge among parents to say: "No. Don't allow it. We
don't want it." We understand the feeling. We have felt it ourselves.
Certainly the life of a parent would be easier if everyone had no
choice but to be straight and sober all the time. But an
intoxicant-free world is not the one we have, nor is it the one most
adults want.

Marijuana is available now. If your child doesn't smoke it, maybe it
is because your parenting works. But prohibition has not worked.

It might work in North Korea. But in America, prohibition is the
pursuit of the impossible. It does impose huge costs. There has been:

.  A cost to the people arrested and stigmatized as criminals,
particularly to students who lose university scholarships because of a
single conviction;

.  A cost in wasted police time, wasted court time and wasted public
resources in the building of jails and prisons;

.  A cost in disrespect for the law and, in some U.S. cities, the
corruption of police departments;

.  A cost in lost civil liberties and lost privacy by such measures as
the tapping of private telephones and invasion of private homes;

.  A cost in the encouragement of criminal lifestyle among youth, and
the consequent rise in theft, assault, intimidation, injury and
murder, including multinational criminal gangs; and

.  A cost in tax revenues lost by federal, state and local governments
-- revenues that for this state might be on the order of $300 million a

Some drugs have such horrible effects on the human body that the costs
of prohibition may be worth it. Not marijuana. This state's experience
with medical marijuana and Seattle's tolerance policy suggest that
with cannabis, legalization will work -- and surprisingly well.

Not only will it work, but it is coming. You can feel

One sign: On Feb. 8, a committee of the state House of Representatives
in Olympia held a public hearing on House Bill 1550. The bill would
legalize marijuana and sell it through the state liquor stores to
customers over 21 who consume it in private.

The big issue at the hearing was the bill's conflict with federal law:
the prospect of Washington legalizing marijuana in defiance of federal
authority. What would that mean?

There would be a legal and political fight. In our view, such a fight
is bound to happen. Some state is going to start it. It might have
been California, but the Golden State turned down a
marijuana-legalization initiative Nov. 2, voting only 46 percent for

Sometimes Washington is ahead of California. This state's voters were
the first to approve gay civil unions, in 2009. California's voters
didn't. Ours did.

Pass HB 1550. Legalize cannabis, regulate it, tax it. It is radical,
yet commonsensical.

"It has taken me a long time to get to this position," said HB 1550's
sponsor, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle.

It took us a long time also. The people of Washington may already be
there, and if not, they are close.