SUPER Bowl XLVIII, jokingly known as “The Smoke-A-Bowl,” is the first between teams from states where recreational marijuana use is legal. It will not be the last.
California, Massachusetts and Arizona are warming up. Others will follow Washington and Colorado’s new approach to treating marijuana like liquor, until finally Congress takes a knee and ends the failed federal prohibition.
As fierce as the competition is on the field between the Seahawks and Broncos, off the field Washington and Colorado agree. The federal government should let these states be the laboratories of democracy on drug policy reform.
They have a similar approach: tightly regulated marijuana sales intended to daylight the black market and end drug possession laws that disproportionately lock up young men of color. Youth access is prohibited.
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President Obama, in a recent interview in the New Yorker, effectively endorsed the state experiments. “It’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished,” he said.
His administration, however, has taken only half-measures. The U.S. Department of Justice in August eased back on threats of criminal prosecution against state-regulated sales. But federal banking regulations, which haven’t been addressed by the Obama administration, effectively render the Washington and Colorado marijuana markets cash-only.
In their first week in business about a month ago
, Colorado’s stores did an estimated $5 million in business. Yet many of the stores cannot hold checking accounts because banks fear federal money-laundering charges. Washington’s soon-to-open marijuana businesses face similar complications, and a similar lack of access to credit card processing.
This senselessly elevates the risk of robbery, violence and even tax fraud. Federal inaction is a sort of passive-aggressive obstruction. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder seems to understand the problem, and said his department was working on it. But Washington and Colorado also need to hear from U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who could calm bankers’ fears.
Drug policy reform seems to be the rare bipartisan issue in Washington, D.C. Last week, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on the far left and right, united to pass out of the Judiciary Committee a bill that ends punitive mandatory minimum drug sentences.
Similarly, U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and Seattle’s liberal U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott are co-sponsors on a bill that yields federal drug control to states. Olympia Democratic U.S. Rep. Denny Heck’s marijuana banking proposal also has Republican co-sponsors.
On Sunday, Seahawks fans from Washington and Broncos fans from Colorado will scream at the opposition until we all go hoarse. Off the field, the Obama administration and Congress should get the federal government out of the way and let the states play out parallel and careful experiments with legalization.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).