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Originally published Monday, April 18, 2011 at 4:02 PM

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Governor should ignore federal threat and sign medical-marijuana bill

The Seattle Times editorial page urges Gov. Chris Gregoire to ignore federal threats and sign the Legislature's medical-marijuana bill when it reaches her desk.

"JUST sign it," is our advice to Gov. Chris Gregoire regarding the medical-marijuana bill, when the bill lands on her desk.

The people of Washington will back her up. They voted for medical cannabis in 1998, and polls show they would vote yes again by an even greater margin today.

In this matter, experience is the great persuader. The latest conversion is Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, who said last month in a KCTS-TV interview that his mother, who died last week from pancreatic cancer, used cannabis and "it provided her relief."

The former King County sheriff said, "I do recognize the medical benefit and it's only come to me recently that I recognize that."

Gregoire now worries about the federal law. She is a lawyer, a former state attorney general and a possible future candidate for a law-related job in the Obama administration. And so, faced with the medical-marijuana bill passing both houses of the Legislature, she made the mistake of asking Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, if it was OK to sign it.

Bad idea. She should have just done it.

Holder's answer, relayed through U.S. attorneys, is a restatement of the law: marijuana is forbidden. Federal agents have the power to arrest growers and dispensaries, and even public employees who treat them as legitimate businesses "would not be immune from liability."

The feds are not going to promise immunity. But the words carefully fall short of a promise to prosecute.

The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said New Mexico has had state-licensed dispensaries since early 2009, and "the feds have not gone after any state employee there." Nor, said the ACLU, have federal agents cracked down on dispensaries in the other states that license them: Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maine, Colorado and Arizona.

We think if Gregoire signs the bill, the feds will do nothing here — because it would make Obama unpopular in his own party, and it would force our two Democratic senators either to defy him or to make excuses for him.

Suppose the feds did crack down, and arrested the Seattle city employees who already have issued business licenses to medical-cannabis dispensaries. Would any jury around here convict them? Would any judge sentence them to prison?

We think not.

Just sign the bill.

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