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Thu., Nov. 15, 2012

Editorial: Congress should decriminalize marijuana

As the first states to legalize marijuana, Washington and Colorado have put U.S. Justice Department officials in a peculiar position. Voters have legalized pot in both states, but it’s still illegal under federal law.

So the governors of both states have reached out to the U.S. attorney general to get clarity on how the feds will respond. Clearing the haze will be critical as both states begin to write the rules and otherwise implement the voters’ wishes. They have about a year to do so.

Gov. Chris Gregoire opposed the initiative, as did Gov.-elect Jay Inslee. But both have vowed to respect the election’s outcome. On Tuesday, Gregoire met with Deputy Attorney General James Cole in Washington, D.C., and then announced that the state would be moving ahead with implementation plans. She said the state would stay in contact with the feds as implementation proceeds. What she wants to avoid is wasting any or all of the $17 million needed to establish a regulatory structure because the feds decided to intervene.

The feds ought to respect the will of the voters. Furthermore, Congress should take up the archaic classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which was passed four decades ago and is now on the wrong side of the science. Marijuana isn’t cocaine or heroin or even prescription painkillers, all of which are far more dangerous.

Voters in Washington and Colorado have it right. Government ought to regulate and tax pot the way it regulates alcohol.

The feds could, of course, swoop in and shut down the commercialization of marijuana under the guise that it undermined federal law. They haven’t been heavy-handed with medical marijuana, but they haven’t been helpful either.

It’s this cloud of uncertainty that has stymied progress.

The war on marijuana hasn’t been successful. The war on states surrendering to common sense won’t be either. The feds don’t have the resources for enforcement. They count on state and local criminal justice systems, but they’re already backing off. Some prosecutors in Washington and Colorado have announced that they’re dropping pot-related cases. Without federal intervention, Washington should be ready to launch the commercial component of Initiative 502 by the end of next year, which allows pot to be sold in stores.

In the meantime, residents need to know the following: On Dec. 6, it will be legal for adults 21 and older to possess one ounce, but not in public view. At that time, you can get pulled over for driving under the influence if there is probable cause; a blood test would be administered. You cannot grow plants unless authorized.

Eighteen states have adopted medical marijuana laws. Two have legalized it outright. Meanwhile, Congress is stuck in the 1970s, treating marijuana like demon weed. We don’t care whether representatives embrace the states’ rights argument or the scientific research that shows marijuana isn’t that dangerous. We just want them to join the 21st century.

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Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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