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THE state’s legalization of marijuana last November was a seismic change in drug-control policy, perhaps the biggest since the end of alcohol prohibition. So it is understandable that misconceptions arise — from supporters and opponents alike — as the state lurches toward the opening of marijuana retail stores next year.

Initiative 502 specifically banned public smoking, but it’s hard to tell from the aroma wafting on the sidewalks. The Seattle City Council, at the urging of City Attorney Pete Holmes, is considering a new city infraction that would make public marijuana smoking akin to public alcohol consumption.

It’s a good idea. Voters (and this editorial page) endorsed I-502 because it offered a more realistic, less punitive approach than the utter failure of marijuana prohibition. They did not want a party. If marijuana is your thing, be discreet. Lighting up in public is a very good way of giving voters second thoughts about your newfound right.

Seattle police need unambiguous instruction. The council should require a warning for first-time offenders of public toking. And the council should monitor enforcement, because civil infractions must not repeat the racially punitive pattern of the old criminal laws. But cops should write infractions to the jerks who just won’t put it out. A city ordinance would send a clear message, to both.

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Skeptics of this law also need to put aside their misperceptions. Redmond Ridge homeowners recently pleaded with the Metropolitan King County Council to ban a proposed indoor marijuana farm in their neighborhood. State Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, declared that the proposed site “is going to be an absolute magnet for crime” and would depress property values.

This type of fear mongering on marijuana contravenes the voters’ endorsement of I-502; the margin in Hill’s district was 58 percent. In fact, I-502 farms will be at least as secure as a neighborhood pharmacy. Redmond Ridge won, and King County this week exempted its business district from I-502 facilities. But a not-in-my-backyard approach is a good way of ensuring a continued marijuana black market.

Getting used to the largest shift in drug-control policy in generations requires patience and some restraint. If you need help with that, take a deep breath of the wafting air.

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