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Originally published Wednesday, July 13, 2011 at 3:59 PM

Defending providers of medical marijuana

The Seattle Times editorial board supports the city of Seattle's move to license and regulate medical marijuana co-ops.

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A COMMITTEE of the Seattle City Council grappled Wednesday with a proposed ordinance for medical-marijuana cooperatives. It would be much easier for Seattle to ban them, as some suburban cities have done — and it would be wrong.

Ultimately, marijuana prohibition has to end. The next step is to defend the providers of medical patients.

The people of Seattle have been clear about this. They supported medical marijuana 13 years ago, in a statewide vote, and they supported a citywide ballot eight years ago making simple possession the lowest police priority. They have elected local politicians who support full legalization.

Federal law bans marijuana entirely, claiming there are no legitimate uses. Yet the Obama administration has said it would not target sick people and their doctors if they comply with state law. However, U.S. attorneys have also threatened to prosecute growers, processors and retailers.

That much tolerance is not enough. The supply chain has to be brought above ground. And because it is questionable legally for state and local governments to do this, it has to be done in ways that can be defended politically.

This is what the proposed ordinance begins to do.

It says any future cannabis-related businesses must have city licenses, follow city land-use rules, and so on. Judged alone, it is innocuous, but it cannot be judged alone. It is part of a political dance. It is a message sent by the city of Seattle to Congress and to the Obama administration.

If Seattle licenses cannabis co-ops, it will leave the members open to federal prosecution. That is a risk they will choose to take. Seattle's job will be to set up a system of regulation that is so clearly reasonable, and supported by people here, that prosecution of licensed suppliers will be a risk the federal government chooses not to take.


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