Our Voice: Move to legal marijuana deserves careful approach

As most of the cities in the Mid-Columbia adopt or discuss six-month moratoriums on the retail sale and manufacturing of marijuana, the state is moving ahead with plans to enact the will of the people.

Voters approved the legalization of marijuana last year, putting Washington at the forefront of the new frontier of pot use. Along with Colorado, our state is pioneering a process for the legalized sale, manufacture and use of marijuana by its citizens.

Though the sale and use of marijuana is prohibited by federal law, the U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that it would not sue either state because of plans to tax and govern marijuana sales for adults.

Federal officials conditioned that statement with the request that states make priorities to prevent impaired driving, keep pot out of the hands of minors and off the black market.

That gave Washington the green light to debut its plan for 334 pot stores across our state, the first of which could be open by June. The stores are allocated by population with Benton County being allowed 10 stores and Franklin County five outlets.

The Liquor Control Board also capped pot production at 40 metric tons per year, and placed limits on how many licenses one entity could hold.

The board's proposed rules are subject to comment for 30 days. Once they're adopted, a new industry will be put in motion, the likes of which we haven't seen since Prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933.

When something becomes legal that was formerly forbidden by law, it opens up a can of worms for governments and regulatory agencies.

We firmly believe in acting on the will of the people, but we also believe that process should be undertaken with careful consideration and thought. We think it's wise for cities to get their ducks in a row before allowing pot stores to open. This is no easy task.

Like it or not, pot is coming to a storefront near you in the near future. But order and reason are imperative as jurisdictions set forth their plans.

The initiative allows the Washington State Liquor Control Board until Dec. 1 to write the rules of the new system. The board is building the system "from seed to sale," according to its website.

And while there will be a legal process for which to grow, sell and consume marijuana, the law does have its limits. It is legal to possess up to an ounce but you can't smoke it in public. You must be 21 and older to buy, possess or partake, just like with booze. Rules and regulations on production and sales will be in place and enforced just as they are with alcohol. Citations will be issued for impaired drivers. You can't possess large quantities or operate a sales or production system that is not state-approved.

With so much new ground to plow, we expect many jurisdictions are waiting on the state to adopt the draft rules. And, quite likely, many are hoping for another city or county to adopt a set of rules to use as a model.

The board even refers people to a frequently asked questions site published by the Seattle Police Department on how it plans to address marijuana possession. That is the same proactive police department that had a booth at the recent Seattle Hempfest, where officers distributed Doritos with a label reminding folks to check out its FAQ on pot use at tinyurl.com/spd-pot.

While some folks are having fun with the education component of the law, getting the process in place is serious business and worth the time it will take before stores open their doors.

We recommended voters reject the initiative, preferring to let some other state break the trail into this uncharted territory. Nothing about the way the shift to legalized marijuana is unfolding makes that seem like a bad call.