City Council makes sound call to regulate pot industry

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The debate over whether — and how — marijuana will be legalized in Washington state didn’t end with the passage of Initiative 502. It’s still in full swing.

Last week the Walla Walla City Council, after two hours of public comment and discussion, voted 4-3 to not impose a moratorium on the growing, processing and selling of pot within the city limits.

In October, when it was presumed implementing the requirements of I-502 was mandatory for every city and county, the City Council approved an interim ordinance establishing rules.

That decision was revisited last week in the wake of state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s opinion that local governments can opt out of allowing pot operations.

Council members Chris Plucker, Jerry Cummins and Jim Burrows supported the moratorium. Among their reasons was that allowing commercial marijuana businesses would send the wrong message to children and lead to more crime and drug problems in the community.

The four Council members voting to keep the October ordinance in place — Barbara Clark, Mary Lou Jenkins, Dick Morgan and Allen Pomraning — do not necessarily support the use of marijuana, but merely took a stand in favor of regulation.

Small amounts of marijuana for personal use is now legal in Walla Walla just as it is in every city and county in the state because I-502 was approved. That does not change regardless of what the Council does.

Establishing where pot can be grown is simply accepting that reality and taking steps to ensure the activity takes place at locations that are more appropriate — such as away from schools.

Ferguson’s opinion, and it is merely an opinion, is sure to be tested in court. That’s where a final decision will be made on whether local governments can opt out.

But the federal government might play a role in this matter. While the U.S. Justice Department has essentially said it would look the other way on pot use in Washington and Colorado, it did so with conditions.

Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole issued a memo last year explaining the department’s “expectation that states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health and other law enforcement interests.”

In addition, the authors of I-502 have said their intent in writing the law was to have regulated marijuana operations in every part of the state as a way to reduce the sale of illegal street drugs.

Things, of course, could change — and probably will.

The decision to regulate the marijuana industry in Walla Walla is a sensible approach.

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