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The serious business of Marijuana Legalization


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The Seattle Times editorial board commends the House Ways and Means Committee for holding a hearing HB 1550 to legalize marijuana, and also expresses its support for SB 5073 to license, tax and regulate growers and dispensaries for medical cannabis.

THE marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 1550, may be stopped for this session of the Legislature. But this issue has been moving as never before, and it needs to keep moving.

This page has been part of it. On Feb. 20 we came out for regulation and taxation of cannabis for adult use, which HB 1550 would do through the state liquor stores. That The Seattle Times would say this lowers the risk for public officials to say it. At the hearing Wednesday at the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, you could feel the change.

There were no Cheech and Chong jokes. This was serious business.

The first three presenters were Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes, Seattle City Councilman Tim Burgess and Professor John McKay of Seattle University School of Law. All favored an end to prohibition.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, presented Hunter's committee with an estimate that in the next biennium her bill could raise $441 million for the state. That would be welcome, just as the liquor revenue was welcome when Prohibition was ended during the Depression. But no estimate is reliable, and revenue, in any case, is not the main reason for doing this.

McKay, who was U.S. Attorney here during the Bush administration and who enforced the law against marijuana sellers, said prohibition has failed to stop people from growing, selling and using. He said the policy has put this into the hands of violent criminal gangs, just as liquor prohibition did in the 1920s.

Burgess, a former police officer, said prohibition has helped make the United States "the world's biggest jailer."

None of these arguments is new. They have been made and ignored for years. Now people begin to listen. If the Legislature does not act, the people may this year by supporting Initiative 1149, which would remove penalties for adult use without imposing the regulatory system in Dickerson's bill.

Dickerson's is not the only bill. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, has a medical cannabis bill that is less sweeping but more urgent.

Her bill, a modified version of Senate Bill 5073, would license and regulate growers, processors and dispensaries of cannabis for medical use only. The urgency around this regards dispensaries, which have opened here and in other states in advance of protection from state law.

Holmes said he and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg know of at least 30 dispensaries in Seattle, and expect 100 by year-end. "They are essentially unregulated," he said.

Federal agents raided a whole string of such dispensaries recently in Montana, accusing them of trafficking outside the medical market. They, too, were essentially unregulated.

Holmes said either the Legislature sets the rules or local governments will make up their own.

Legislators have Kohl-Welles' bill. The Senate has passed it. The House should do the same.
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