Pubdate: Fri, 11 Jan 2013
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2013 The Seattle Times Company
Page: A11


WASHINGTON is uniquely positioned to show the nation how a 
well-considered market for marijuana is a safer, saner and more 
lucrative approach than prohibition.

Let's not screw it up. The Washington State Liquor Control Board, the 
new marijuana overseer for the voter-approved market, has its work cut out.

The first step - an application process for marijuana-cultivation 
licenses - begins in fewer than 100 days.

The board must find the right regulatory balance to pull marijuana 
out of the black market. Too heavy a hand will undermine this grand 
experiment. Wield too light a hand, and the state could be in bed 
with criminal gangs.

Investors are drooling, and hiring lobbyists to influence the rules. 
Listening to the industry is expected, but the Liquor Control Board's 
lack of history regulating marijuana increases the importance of 
acting with deliberate speed.

The foremost goal should be to keep marijuana grown within the 
regulated marketplace inside the market. If Washington becomes a 
wholesale exporter, other states will have no reason to follow our 
lead in challenging the federal ban.

Vigorous background checks of license applicants should include 
financial vetting, to assure legitimate financing. The Liquor Control 
Board can lean on its history vetting liquor licensees, but marijuana 
is a new commodity and raises new questions, including whether felony 
convictions for marijuana sales should disqualify applicants.

For guidance, the agency can look to the state of Colorado, which has 
years of experience regulating a thriving medical-marijuana industry, 
as detailed in a Seattle Times story on Sunday. We should learn from 
its mistakes and successes.

The Liquor Control Board should proceed regardless of an ambivalent 
response from the Obama administration. Voters endorsed a new 
approach to marijuana in Washington and Colorado because Congress has 
refused to reconsider its failed drug policy. There is no reason to 
believe it will do so now.

As the Legislature reconvenes next week, lawmakers may seek to tinker 
with the law. They should do so with caution.

Done right, the state can fund health care, drug treatment and 
prevention with marijuana sin taxes while robbing the black market of 
a cash cow.

Let's not screw it up.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom