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Originally published February 24, 2011 at 2:57 PM | Page modified February 24, 2011 at 4:30 PM

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Marijuana-legalization bill deserves a hearing

The Seattle Times editorial board urges House Speaker Frank Chopp to allow a hearing on House Bill 1550, state Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson's bill to legalize marijuana and sell it through the Washington state liquor stores.

REP. Mary Lou Dickerson's bill to legalize marijuana, tax it and sell it to adults through the state liquor stores — House Bill 1550 — deserves a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee. This is the money committee, and Dickerson's bill could create a revenue stream for the state of at least $300 million a year.

The money is not the main reason we favor the bill. As we explained on this page last Sunday, our main reason is that we believe the costs of prohibition in police, courts, jails, gang warfare, civil liberties and blighted lives are too high, especially for a product that lends itself so well to be handled like alcohol.

That is an argument valid anytime. Right now there is a crisis in state spending and revenue, which makes a $300 million river of cash of immediate interest.

HB 1550 is a bold bill. It will be safer for legislators to pass Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles' bill, Senate Bill 5073, to provide arrest protection for medical cannabis patients, and let the larger issue slide. Kohl-Welles' bill is a good one, and we support it. But there still ought to be room for a hearing on the big one, HB 1550.

At this point in the session, a Ways and Means hearing requires the permission of Speaker Frank Chopp. We urge him to approve a hearing. The response we have had to our editorial convinces us that public interest in this question is huge.

Whether the Legislature is ready to pass a bill this bold is doubtful, but we remind legislators that an even bolder one is coming. It is Initiative 1135, and it is already filed. It would remove all state penalties for marijuana at age 18.

Its proponents, Philip Dawdy, Douglas Hiatt and other members of Sensible Washington, almost placed a similar measure on the ballot last year, falling short by a few tens of thousands of signatures. This year, it is likely they will get the signatures, especially if the Legislature turns its back on this issue.

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