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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Regulation, taxation of marijuana worth a try

States have always been the laboratories of democracy, but few have tried to legalize marijuana so it can be regulated and taxed. That’s because Congress adopted a law more than five decades ago that treats pot the same as heroin. The prohibition of marijuana has failed – just as the one on alcohol did – but it is swept up in the “war on drugs.”

Marijuana use is widespread despite being driven underground. As with Prohibition, those making huge profits are gangsters who ruthlessly protect their turf. Gangsters in the 1930s were put out of business by legalizing the sale of alcohol. That can happen with marijuana, too.

Washington state has taken the incremental step of adopting a medical marijuana initiative, but limiting its legal use to those with prescriptions has produced administrative and law enforcement headaches. It’s because pot is illegal for most users that so much money is wasted on enforcement. Legalization would clear that up, leaving federal officers to enforce federal law. They can’t. More than 90 percent of the busts are conducted by state and local officers. At a time when property crimes aren’t investigated for lack of manpower, freeing officers from their pursuit of pot is smart.

Initiative 502 would regulate and tax the production and sale of marijuana. One ounce is the most that could be purchased in a single sale. Buyers must be at least 21 years old. Some of the proceeds would go toward public health campaigns outlining the ill effects of marijuana. The state Liquor Control Board would have a year to develop the rules. The initiative would also legalize the growing of hemp, giving Washingtonians access to a lucrative market.

Pot isn’t a healthful product, but neither are cigarettes and booze. Marijuana should be taxed and regulated just like those “sins.” Instead, property is confiscated, parents are jailed and lives are ruined when someone is caught with a drug that is less harmful than many legal substances. Plus, violent crimes are committed to protect profits. The costs to the criminal justice system can’t be justified. The hits to social service budgets could be avoided.

Congress won’t act, because no politician wants to be seen as “soft on crime.” So marijuana is categorized as a drug with no medicinal value (false) and as dangerous as heroin (false). This is the mentality of the 1960s frozen in time. Changing attitudes have been ignored.

Colorado and Oregon are voting on legalization measures too. Ideally, the feds would back off and watch this experiment unfold in jurisdictions where voters are willing to give it a try. The feds could try to pre-empt the establishment of these laws by filing legal injunctions. We’d welcome hearings where the case for keeping marijuana illegal must be made in front of judges who rely on evidence rather than politics and fear.

If the feds were to win, then it’s back to the failed status quo. But if states could take the lead, the nation might finally free itself from the costly, irrational yoke of prohibition.

That’s easily worth a yes vote on Initiative 502.

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