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Originally published October 31, 2012 at 12:01 AM | Page modified October 31, 2012 at 6:04 AM

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Editorial: Initiative 502 brings marijuana trade out of the shadows

The Seattle Times editorial board argues that Initiative 502 will increase social control of marijuana.

Seattle Times Editorial

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Opponents of Initiative 502 are making the argument that they don’t want more people to smoke marijuana. Especially, not more teenagers. The argument is simple and wrong.

People already smoke marijuana. Teenagers smoke it. The law prohibits it and they do it.

Initiative 502 is about licensing, taxing and regulating marijuana for adults. It is about taking it out of the shadows, out of the hands of gangs and cartels, and into the hands of people who can be watched. People who have a business address. People who file tax returns.

For years, marijuana distributors have been killing each other in Mexico and here. That’s what happens when business is conducted by criminals. There are no rules. That’s what beer distribution was like in the 1920s under Prohibition. It wasn’t beer that made it that way; it was the law.

Change the law.

Initiative 502 has an age rule. You have to be 21. Marijuana is not allowed for teenagers.

Will that always work? No. But 502 licenses marijuana retailers, just like beer sellers. And most beer retailers are good about checking ID, because they want to keep their licenses.

The illicit market has no licenses. Nobody checks ID.

For voters to say, “We don’t want kids smoking marijuana, so we’re voting against 502,” is to say: “Let’s not have licenses. Let’s not require ID. Let’s not have this industry where we can see it. Let’s keep it in the dark.”

Marijuana is largely untaxed. Initiative 502 puts a “sin tax” on it, like liquor and cigarettes. This tax would raise revenue on the order of half a billion dollars a year — money for public health and other valuable things.

For voters to say, “We’re voting against 502” is to say, “We don’t want our government to have that money. Let the cartels keep it.”

One final point, for those who worry about marijuana as a “gateway drug.” Under Initiative 502 an adult could go to a licensed shop and buy up to one ounce of marijuana — but no other drug now banned. In the illicit market, you can buy all you want of marijuana and other prohibited drugs.

There is the gateway.

In recreational marijuana there are no licenses, no rules about ID, no limits and no state revenue — and all the money goes to criminals.

It’s time to try a new approach.

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