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Originally published Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 2:10 PM

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Editorial: Federal government right to let states press on with marijuana legalization

The day the federal government stood down on marijuana. About time.

Seattle Times Editorial

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YEARS from now, when Congress finally ends the failed prohibition on marijuana, Aug. 29, 2013, will be a red-letter day on the timeline.

Thursday the Obama administration acknowledged Washington’s and Colorado’s voter-approved experiments with legal marijuana have merit, and will not be pre-empted.

That is more than many supporters could have hoped, because it gives Initiative 502 in Washington and Amendment 64 in Colorado a chance to succeed.

And those voter-approved measures offer a clear template for a state-by-state revolt against the absurd federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, right next to heroin and LSD.

The U.S. Justice Department memo laying out federal priorities for marijuana enforcement reads as if it were cribbed from the talking points of Initiative 502. Tight controls on underage use, drugged driving and criminal profiteering — all key elements of I-502.

The memo appears to greenlight industrial-scale marijuana growing, so long as the product does not spill across state borders.

If done right, that economy of scale could allow legal marijuana market prices to cripple the black market. Again, a win for I-502.

As encouraging as the memo is, it is clear the federal government is not disarming, just standing down, under specific circumstances.

To keep the feds on stand-down, the state Legislature and congressional delegation have work to do. Legislators need to reign in the unregulated medical-marijuana market, the type of free-for-all that the memo singles out for federal enforcement.

And the congressional delegation must continue to press for easing of federal banking laws, to ensure mainstream banking and credit-card processing for legal marijuana businesses. A legal but cash-only marijuana market would be a welcoming target for gangs and thieves.

Voters embraced I-502 because the status quo was ineffective, wasteful and unjust. It took the federal government 296 days to stand down and allow Washington to become a greener laboratory of democracy.

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