Pubdate: Thu, 17 Feb 2011
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2011 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Pete Holmes
Note: Pete Holmes is serving his first term as Seattle city attorney.


Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes Argues That Its Time to Legalize,
Tax and Regulate Marijuana. Outright Prohibition Isn't Working.

MARIJUANA prohibition is more than a practical failure; it has been a
misuse of both taxpayer dollars and the government's authority over
the people.

As the steward of reduced prosecutorial dollars, I am the first
Seattle city attorney to stop prosecuting marijuana-possession cases
and to call for the legalization, taxation and regulation of marijuana
for adult recreational use.

We have long since agreed as a society that substances should not be
prohibited by the government simply because they can be harmful if
misused or consumed in excess. Alcohol, food and cars can all be
extremely dangerous under certain circumstances, and cigarettes are
almost always harmful in the long term. All these things kill many
people every year.

But we don't try to ban any of them -- because we can't, and we don't
need to. Instead, we regulate their manufacture and use, we tax them,
and we encourage those who choose to use them to do so in as safe a
manner as possible.

Marijuana is far more like alcohol than it is like hard drugs, and we
should treat it as such. We address alcohol abuse primarily as a
public-health issue, and we should do the same with marijuana abuse.
Inebriation only becomes a crime for those who choose to get behind
the wheel, whether the intoxicant is alcohol, prescription pain
killers or cannabis.

My focus as city attorney is to ensure that we have ways to regulate
the production and distribution of any potentially harmful substance
so that we limit the potential risk and harm. Outright prohibition is
an ineffective means of doing this.

Instead, I support tightening laws against driving while stoned,
preventing the sale of marijuana to minors, and ensuring that anything
other than small-scale noncommercial marijuana production takes place
in regulated agricultural facilities -- and not residential basements.

It is critical that we get these details right. Ending marijuana
prohibition isn't a panacea, but it's a necessary step in the right
direction, and the specifics of a rational regulatory system for
marijuana are important.

Ending marijuana prohibition is pro-law enforcement because it would
enhance the legitimacy of our laws and law enforcement. As Albert
Einstein said of Prohibition in 1921, "Nothing is more destructive of
respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws
which cannot be enforced."

Marijuana prohibition cannot be and has not been consistently
enforced, and keeping it on the books diminishes the people's respect
for law enforcement.

I applaud the state Legislature for recently holding a hearing on
House Bill 1550, which would legalize marijuana. This is an important
start to the conversation about ending prohibition, which I believe is
likely to lead to a successful citizens' initiative if the Legislature
doesn't step up and do the right thing first.

Ending marijuana prohibition and focusing on rational regulation and
taxation is a pro-public safety, pro-public health, pro-limited
government policy. I urge the state Legislature to move down this road.

Even if marijuana remains illegal under federal law, it is still time
for Washington state to act. As with alcohol prohibition, collective
action by the states will help us end the federal marijuana
prohibition and transition to a rational and functional system for
regulating and taxing marijuana.

The state of Washington should not use the continued existence of the
federal prohibition as an excuse for leaving our misguided and
wasteful state prohibition system in place.  
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake