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Originally published August 26, 2013 at 4:27 PM | Page modified August 27, 2013 at 11:47 AM

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Editorial: Obama administration overdue in addressing state marijuana laws

The Obama administration owes Washington and Colorado clear guidance on their legal marijuana laws.

Seattle Times Editorial

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NEARLY 10 months ago the voters of Washington and Colorado intentionally blew a hole in the failed federal prohibition of marijuana.

We are still waiting for a response from the Obama administration. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Consistently, the U.S. Justice Department has said it is still reviewing the measures. Earlier this month, Spokane’s U.S. attorney, Mike Ormsby, said that the federal response was “higher than my pay grade ... As soon as we have a decision made, it will be rolled out.”

Silence thus far has been interpreted as tacit approval. Regulators in both states have diligently spent thousands of hours to create the world’s first legal, fully regulated marijuana markets. Entrepreneurs are writing business plans, leasing warehouses and preparing for full vetting of their backgrounds and financing, all in anticipation of rules being finished in December.

Silence may be better than a full federal crackdown. Perhaps the feds are waiting until the rules are final. If so, they’ll see a closed marketplace with no access to anyone under 21, seed-to-sale tracking and safeguards against legal, Washington-grown cannabis spilling across our borders.

But continued silence carries a cost. Washington has budgeted $2.5 million to write rules for the legal market. And without a clear federal statement, the legal market’s access to mainstream banking will be constricted because current federal law regards marijuana transactions as drug deals.

That could be fixed if Congress passes legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia. “Nobody wins if you make it a cash-only business,” Heck said.

Silence prompted an innovative idea by Mark Kleiman, lead consultant for Washington’s draft marijuana regulations. Recently, he, suggested the Obama administration could sign contracts with Washington and Colorado allowing their legal markets to proceed, in exchange for cooperation in cracking down on illegal growing.

Innovative, but as circuitous as driving from Seattle to Spokane via Boise. The straightforward route is for the Obama Justice Department to speak up, stand aside and let the two states become the laboratories of marijuana-enhanced democracy.

Hopefully, Attorney General Eric Holder will say so on Sept. 10, when the Senate holds a hearing on legalization.

The Obama administration owes the 3.1 million people who voted for legalization in Washington and Colorado a response. We’re waiting.

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