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Originally published Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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Editorial: Washington needs to get it right on marijuana rules

The state Liquor Control Board should move with deliberate speed in creating rules for a legal marijuana market.

Seattle Times Editorial

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WASHINGTON is uniquely positioned to show the nation how a well-considered market for marijuana is a safer, saner and more lucrative approach than prohibition.

Let’s not screw it up.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board, the new marijuana overseer for the voter-approved market, has its work cut out.

The first step — an application process for marijuana-cultivation licenses — begins in fewer than 100 days.

The board must find the right regulatory balance to pull marijuana out of the black market. Too heavy a hand will undermine this grand experiment. Wield too light a hand, and the state could be in bed with criminal gangs.

Investors are drooling, and hiring lobbyists to influence the rules. Listening to the industry is expected, but the Liquor Control Board’s lack of history regulating marijuana increases the importance of acting with deliberate speed.

The foremost goal should be to keep marijuana grown within the regulated marketplace inside the market. If Washington becomes a wholesale exporter, other states will have no reason to follow our lead in challenging the federal ban.

Vigorous background checks of license applicants should include financial vetting, to assure legitimate financing. The Liquor Control Board can lean on its history vetting liquor licensees, but marijuana is a new commodity and raises new questions, including whether felony convictions for marijuana sales should disqualify applicants.

For guidance, the agency can look to the state of Colorado, which has years of experience regulating a thriving medical-marijuana industry, as detailed in a Seattle Times story on Sunday. We should learn from its mistakes and successes.

The Liquor Control Board should proceed regardless of an ambivalent response from the Obama administration. Voters endorsed a new approach to marijuana in Washington and Colorado because Congress has refused to reconsider its failed drug policy. There is no reason to believe it will do so now.

As the Legislature reconvenes next week, lawmakers may seek to tinker with the law. They should do so with caution.

Done right, the state can fund health care, drug treatment and prevention with marijuana sin taxes while robbing the black market of a cash cow.

Let’s not screw it up.

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