Pubdate: Sun, 02 Feb 2014
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2014 The Seattle Times Company


SUPER Bowl XLVIII, jokingly known as "The Smoke-A-Bowl," is the first 
between teams from states where recreational marijuana use is legal. 
It will not be the last.

California, Massachusetts and Arizona are warming up. Others will 
follow Washington and Colorado's new approach to treating marijuana 
like liquor, until finally Congress takes a knee and ends the failed 
federal prohibition.

As fierce as the competition is on the field between the Seahawks and 
Broncos, off the field Washington and Colorado agree. The federal 
government should let these states be the laboratories of democracy 
on drug policy reform.

They have a similar approach: tightly regulated marijuana sales 
intended to daylight the black market and end drug possession laws 
that disproportionately lock up young men of color. Youth access is prohibited.

President Obama, in a recent interview in the New Yorker, effectively 
endorsed the state experiments. "It's important for society not to 
have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time 
or another broken the law and only a select few get punished," he said.

His administration, however, has taken only half-measures. The U.S. 
Department of Justice in August eased back on threats of criminal 
prosecution against state-regulated sales. But federal banking 
regulations, which haven't been addressed by the Obama 
administration, effectively render the Washington and Colorado 
marijuana markets cash-only.

In their first week in business about a month ago, Colorado's stores 
did an estimated $5 million in business. Yet many of the stores 
cannot hold checking accounts because banks fear federal 
money-laundering charges. Washington's soon-to-open marijuana 
businesses face similar complications, and a similar lack of access 
to credit card processing.

This senselessly elevates the risk of robbery, violence and even tax 
fraud. Federal inaction is a sort of passive-aggressive obstruction. 
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder seems to understand the problem, 
and said his department was working on it. But Washington and 
Colorado also need to hear from U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who 
could calm bankers' fears.

Drug policy reform seems to be the rare bipartisan issue in 
Washington, D.C. Last week, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Ted 
Cruz, R-Texas, on the far left and right, united to pass out of the 
Judiciary Committee a bill that ends punitive mandatory minimum drug sentences.

Similarly, U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and Seattle's 
liberal U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott are co-sponsors on a bill that yields 
federal drug control to states. Olympia Democratic U.S. Rep. Denny 
Heck's marijuana banking proposal also has Republican cosponsors.

On Sunday, Seahawks fans from Washington and Broncos fans from 
Colorado will scream at the opposition until we all go hoarse. Off 
the field, the Obama administration and Congress should get the 
federal government out of the way and let the states play out 
parallel and careful experiments with legalization.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom