In an unsigned editorial (although we all know it's you, Bruce), the Seattle Times this afternoon called upon the Washington State Legislature to pass HB 1550, a bill that would legalize the manufacture and use of marijuana, and sell it through our state liquor stores.

MARIJUANA should be legalized, regulated and taxed. The push to repeal federal prohibition should come from the states, and it should begin with the state of Washington.

It's a bold proposal, one rife with legal and political problems (not the least of which being the thorny issue of federal drug laws), but as the Seattle Times says, it's "commonsensical." Marijuana is relatively harmless (certainly less harmful than alcohol), and prohibition not only doesn't work, it's arguably counterproductive. And as I've frequently argued on HA, the state store system my Stranger colleagues so love to revile, gives us a ready-made infrastructure for regulating and taxing the sale of marijuana in a responsible and familiar manner:

Other states may be further along the political path toward de facto legalization, but no other state, with the exception of my native Pennsylvania, has a more robust system already in place for effectively executing it. Washington already heavily regulates the in-state manufacture of wine, beer and distilled spirits, and maintains an extensive statewide network of retail stores and distribution centers for the sole purpose of operating its exclusive monopoly on the retail sale of liquor. A similar monopoly on the legal sale of marijuana would not only be easily implemented, but highly profitable for taxpayers and state farmers alike.

At an estimated street value of over $1 billion a year, marijuana is already Washington’s number two cash crop, second only to apples, and consistently ranking us among the top five pot-producing states. By legalizing and regulating a crop that is already being grown, the state could impose standards of consistency and quality on the product, and by setting prices as the only legal buyer for the crop, farmers could be assured a stable, legal income for their efforts.

And considering the existing federal ban on marijuana, and the federal government’s constitutional authority over interstate commerce, Washington’s State Stores, by necessity, would initially only be able to buy and sell state-grown product, thus nurturing a nascent hemp industry that would eventually produce a valuable export commodity once the ban is lifted nationally, perhaps even dominating the market.

As for retail and consumption, the same restrictions that apply to the sale and use of liquor would apply to the sale and use of marijuana, with the state likely maintaining prices at or near current street levels. The result would be hundreds of millions of dollars a year in additional state revenues, plus hundreds of millions of dollars in savings from law enforcement and incarceration (not to mention the elimination of the incalculable human suffering caused by our current prohibition.) Distribution to minors, for profit or otherwise, would be strictly prohibited and harshly punished, as would driving under the influence of marijuana. And just as consumers may already legally make their own beer and wine for their own consumption, the current guidelines on medical marijuana could be easily adapted to apply to all home growers.

It's not often I get to congratulate the Seattle Times editorial board for getting out in front of an important public policy issue (you know, on the non-evil side), but this is one subject on which we are in total agreement: legalize, regulate and tax the hell out of pot. Yeah, this would no doubt spark a contentious political battle with the feds, but that battle's got to start somewhere, so it might as well start.