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Editorial: Stakes high for state as marijuana is legalized

The Washington Liquor Control Board left no would-be stoner unturned, developing comprehensive rules for marijuana sellers and growers.

The 47-page draft released Thursday encompasses every step in the newly legalized retail sale of marijuana from seed to seller and, really, beyond, because even the waste has to be accounted for.

This will not be a business for slackers; starting with the fees and the scoring of any criminal history, to the types of facilities and tracking that will be required.

Labels must not only contain information about the amount of intoxicants, but also whatever herbicides or pesticides might have been used during the cultivation of the plants. Premises must be monitored by more cameras than a bank. And, of course, there will be a litany of safety warnings, including one against driving under the influence, a standard that remains ill-defined.

Also hazy, and far more important, is the response of the federal government, which continues to classify marijuana as a dangerous narcotic despite overwhelming evidence it is nothing of the sort. Medical marijuana sellers have done so in a twilight zone of state sanction and federal forbearance.

Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, along with their Colorado counterparts, have lobbied U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for enough legal space to allow the two states’ legalization efforts to go forward. He has promised an answer in the near future, but the blow-up over Internal Revenue Service misbehavior and Department of Justice seizure of Associated Press telephone records may have set the marijuana issue on a side burner.

Washington’s tight regulations are, in part, intended to reassure the feds the state will not let the dope industry run wild. The restrictions on locations pretty much consign the shops in Spokane to zones near Hillyard and along Trent Avenue.

Still, interest has been high since Initiative 502 was placed on the ballot last year. Thousands showed up for Liquor Board hearings around the state, and there were more than 3,000 downloads of the proposed regulations in the 17 hours after they were posted.

Comments are due by June 10. Applications will be taken in September, and the selections announced in December. How many licenses will be awarded — based on county consumption — is unknown. Rand Corp. has been retained to do that calculation.

Many potential shop owners and growers will, no doubt, be discouraged by the fees, reporting requirements and other rules. The one sure winner will be the state, which will collect a fat 25 percent excise tax. Projected take: $2 billion over five years. Wethinks somebody has been smoking something.

The Liquor Board has been tough, and appropriately so, but the Justice Department and U.S. attorneys will make their own decisions based on overriding federal statutes. If Washington and Colorado are to fill the traditional role of the states as laboratories of democracy, they will need some space.

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