Last February this page argued that prohibiting marijuana was causing far more harm than good, and that Washington should legalize it for adult use. We hold this view still, and have strong hopes for progress in 2012.
A year ago, dispensaries were open across the state providing edible and smokable cannabis to bona fide patients. For the most part these shops were orderly and peaceful, though whether they were legal was doubtful.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, sponsored a bill for the state to legalize them, licensing growers and distributors. It was a good bill, and the Legislature passed it. But after U.S. attorneys in Seattle and Spokane warned that state employees who licensed marijuana would not be immune from federal prosecution, Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of the bill.
Her action, which we thought overkill, left things in chaos. Police shut down dispensaries in Spokane, arresting recalcitrant owners as drug dealers and forcing sick people onto the black market.
In Seattle, Tacoma and a few other cities, prosecutors have bravely allowed dispensaries to stay open. Seattle has more than 100 of them. The difference here is not the law, but the discretion of those who hold power.
Kohl-Welles is readying another medical-cannabis bill, and is negotiating with the governor’s office. Gregoire should take some risk on this. The science behind medical cannabis is clear, and public opinion is clear, too. In no state have federal authorities arrested state employees for doing their jobs.
To her credit, Gregoire does support medical use of marijuana, and has petitioned the federal government to allow it by reclassifying marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. This is a petition the Obama administration should grant.
Then, there is the matter of full legalization.
On Dec. 29, a group called New Approach Washington plans to turn in signatures on Initiative 502, a measure to legalize, regulate and tax the growing, processing and sale of marijuana in Washington, allowing it for adults in small amounts. I-502 gives legislators three options: pass it into law, let it go to the November ballot, or pass an alternative that would accompany it on the ballot.
Legislators should let it go to the ballot. The people are ready: On Nov. 28, a KING-5/Survey U.S.A. poll found that 57 percent of registered voters support legalizing the adult possession of 1 ounce.
Above everything here is federal law. Kohl-Welles’ bill, Gregoire’s petition and I-502 all ultimately amount to lobbying the federal government, either for forbearance or change. And on issues such as this, the most powerful lobby is the entire population.
Legalization: Bring it to a vote in 2012.
Note: The Seattle Times editorial board expresses its support for medical marijuana and for the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana generally, and hopes for change in 2012.