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Originally published Friday, February 18, 2011 at 2:37 PM

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The Washington Legislature should legalize marijuana

Time for the Washington state Legislature to legalize marijuana, writes The Seattle Times editorial board. The push to repeal the federal prohibition should come from the states, starting with Washington.

MARIJUANA should be legalized, regulated and taxed. The push to repeal federal prohibition should come from the states, and it should begin with the state of Washington.

In 1998, Washington was one of the earliest to vote for medical marijuana. It was a leap of faith, and the right decision. In 2003, Seattle was one of the first places in America to vote to make simple marijuana possession the lowest police priority. That, too, was a leap of faith, and the right decision. A year ago, City Attorney Pete Holmes stopped all prosecutions for simple possession: the right decision.

It is time for the next step. It is a leap, yes — but not such a big one, now.

Still, it is not an easy decision. We have known children who changed from brilliant students to slackers by smoking marijuana at a young age. We have also known of many users who have gone on to have responsible and successful lives. One of them is president of the United States.

Like alcohol, most people can handle marijuana. Some can't.

There is a deep urge among parents to say: "No. Don't allow it. We don't want it." We understand the feeling. We have felt it ourselves. Certainly the life of a parent would be easier if everyone had no choice but to be straight and sober all the time. But an intoxicant-free world is not the one we have, nor is it the one most adults want.

Marijuana is available now. If your child doesn't smoke it, maybe it is because your parenting works. But prohibition has not worked.

It might work in North Korea. But in America, prohibition is the pursuit of the impossible. It does impose huge costs. There has been:

• A cost to the people arrested and stigmatized as criminals, particularly to students who lose university scholarships because of a single conviction;

• A cost in wasted police time, wasted court time and wasted public resources in the building of jails and prisons;

• A cost in disrespect for the law and, in some U.S. cities, the corruption of police departments;

• A cost in lost civil liberties and lost privacy by such measures as the tapping of private telephones and invasion of private homes;

• A cost in the encouragement of criminal lifestyle among youth, and the consequent rise in theft, assault, intimidation, injury and murder, including multinational criminal gangs; and

• A cost in tax revenues lost by federal, state and local governments — revenues that for this state might be on the order of $300 million a year.

Some drugs have such horrible effects on the human body that the costs of prohibition may be worth it. Not marijuana. This state's experience with medical marijuana and Seattle's tolerance policy suggest that with cannabis, legalization will work — and surprisingly well.

Not only will it work, but it is coming. You can feel it.

One sign: On Feb. 8, a committee of the state House of Representatives in Olympia held a public hearing on House Bill 1550. The bill would legalize marijuana and sell it through the state liquor stores to customers over 21 who consume it in private.

The big issue at the hearing was the bill's conflict with federal law: the prospect of Washington legalizing marijuana in defiance of federal authority. What would that mean?

There would be a legal and political fight. In our view, such a fight is bound to happen. Some state is going to start it. It might have been California, but the Golden State turned down a marijuana-legalization initiative Nov. 2, voting only 46 percent for it.

Sometimes Washington is ahead of California. This state's voters were the first to approve gay civil unions, in 2009. California's voters didn't. Ours did.

Pass HB 1550. Legalize cannabis, regulate it, tax it. It is radical, yet commonsensical.

"It has taken me a long time to get to this position," said HB 1550's sponsor, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle.

It took us a long time also. The people of Washington may already be there, and if not, they are close.

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