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Thursday, October 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Feds should refrain from marijuana crackdown

Now that Jeff Sessions has been confirmed as attorney general, will the federal government swoop in to stop commercial marijuana enterprises? It’s a valid concern, because of his long-standing views.

“Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” Sessions said last year. Washingtonians had no reason to be alarmed with a generalization from an Alabama senator. But now he’s the top law enforcement officer in the land, and selling and possessing pot is a federal crime.

Sessions isn’t alone in believing marijuana to be especially pernicious, but scientific research and common sense don’t back him up. The toll from alcohol and tobacco is much higher, but both remain legal substances.

Marijuana’s counterculture roots made it easy for mainstream society to accept unfounded fears. Meanwhile, respectable people enjoyed cocktails, even when booze was illegal. Prohibiting pot is no more practical than prohibiting liquor. Marijuana use was widespread in Washington state before legalization, and that would continue even if the feds intervene.

A crackdown would merely alter who profits, and it would rob government budgets of much-needed revenue. Because the state requires legal sellers to keep detailed records, it would be a breeze for feds to execute widespread busts. Black-market purveyors of pot, including gangs, would be thrilled.

In 2012, 56 percent of Washingtonians voted to legalize recreational pot. The state then undertook a painstaking two-year task of creating a tightly regulated marketplace that would not run afoul of U.S. Department of Justice concerns – namely, keeping it away from children and other states.

Colorado, Oregon, California, Alaska and the District of Columbia have also legalized recreational marijuana use. Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts passed similar laws in November. Twenty-eight states have legalized medical marijuana.

Pot is going mainstream, but federal law is stuck in the past. The 1970 Controlled Substances Act treats marijuana as if it had no medicinal value and suggests it’s as addictive and dangerous as heroin, and more dangerous than cocaine. Government has spent vast sums enforcing this fiction, and many lives have been ruined.

Rather than restart the war on this particular drug, the feds should target the widening scourge of heroin and prescription painkillers. Sessions should also remember his long-standing support of states’ rights and his denunciations of federal overreach.

As a candidate, now-President Donald Trump said, “It should be a state issue, state by state.”

Actually, it should be a federal issue, with Congress or the Drug Enforcement Administration rescheduling marijuana so business owners can use the banking system. Currently, banks can’t accept deposits from marijuana sales, making pot an all-cash business.

Gov. Jay Inslee says he will make sure Congress gets an accurate assessment of Washington’s experience with legalized marijuana. It’s been four years, and this experiment deserves to continue.

Even the harshest critics of legalization must admit that their dire predictions haven’t come to pass.

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