State Representative Mary Lou Dickerson (D-36) filed a bill yesterday in the state house that, if passed, would legalize the possession, cultivation, and sale of marijuana. Moreover, it would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol—thereby helping salvage our state budget. Here's a glimpse at the financial potential of the bill: A 2006 study found that Washington State's pot crop has an estimated annual value of $1,030,015,000 (.pdf), so if the state applied the same tax rate to pot that we do to cigarettes ($2 for a pack of cigarettes, more than half the pre-tax cost) we could generate over $500 million in revenue every year.

It seems like a long shot, obviously, so I asked bill co-sponsor State Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45) what his goal is: "I would like the the bill to help us engage in a serious discussion about a rational regulation of marijuana so we can get it out of the schools and off the street," Goodman said. "Although current federal law could be interpreted to prevent this, that should not prevent us from having a very serious discussion."

But let's be honest. This bill won't pass. I doubt it will even get a hearing. Here's some of the text:

(1) Legalize marijuana and its derivatives;

(2) Remove all existing civil and criminal penalties for adults twenty-one years of age or older who cultivate, possess, transport, sell, or use marijuana, without impacting existing laws proscribing dangerous activities while under the influence of marijuana, or certain conduct that exposes younger persons to marijuana;

(3) Raise funds and discourage substance abuse by the imposition of a tax on the legal sale of marijuana, the proceeds of which will support drug education and awareness; and

(4) Impose a set of rules and laws concerning marijuana comparable to those imposed on alcohol.

Although this is pie in the sky (at least in 2010), this is a savvy move by Dickerson. Introducing this bill isn't about this bill. It's about making a separate decriminalization bill active in the state legislature seem less threatening. That bill would reduce the penalty for marijuana possession—currently up to a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail—to a $100 infraction.

Creating a range of legislation—some moderate and some extreme—makes the more moderate bills more palatable. For instance, lawmakers also introduced gay-marriage bills in the same year the legislature passed three domestic-partnership bills. Domestic partnership seemed so tame by comparison. The tactic also demonstrates to the all-or-nothing "gay marriage now!" howlers that the legislature isn't ready for outright gay marriage (or they would have passed it). Likewise, some pro-legalization folks say we shouldn't decriminalize pot—we need to tax it and regulate it—and not settle for any interim measure. But the legislature is not ready. Hell, they're barely ready to reduce the penalties for possession (the decrim bill stalled in the state senate last year). But Dickerson's bill makes decrim seem safe, which of course, it is. If Dickerson can introduce a pot legalization bill without fear of losing her seat, then surely lawmakers from other districts can vote for a tame decrim bill and keep their seats.