Yes, pot zoning — with crackdown on bad guys

At last, some clarity on local control of legal marijuana.

Some cities and counties in this area — notably Pierce County and Lakewood — have refused to create zoning for the marijuana industry legalized by initiative in 2012.

Their officials complain about being forced to violate the federal Controlled Substances Act, which outlaws marijuana. Legalization advocates say these officials have been defying state law.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has provided guidance. In a formal opinion released Thursday, he concluded that Initiative 502 does not clearly pre-empt local power to reject marijuana enterprises. He didn’t get to the conflict between state and federal law.

I-502 reflects the will of the people; it deserves a chance to prove that it can dismantle the marijuana black market. That requires licensed outlets.

One remedy is for lawmakers to make state pre-emption explicit and binding. But pre-emption is not an end in itself. It must be part of a package deal that includes a wholehearted state effort to kill marijuana trafficking.

Otherwise the local jurisdictions will wind up with a slew of licensed retailers — plus the whole seamy underside of pot-dealing, including “medical” dispensaries, grow operations, criminal syndicates and sales to juveniles.

The low-hanging fruit are the many dispensaries that cater to recreational users. They’re already illegal, but they’ve bluffed many local officials by claiming to be collective gardens authorized by state law. Collective gardens probably have to be excised from state law entirely to demolish this bogus loophole.

The Legislature also must tighten the loose legal language that allows quacks to sell marijuana recommendations to any comer with vague complaints of pain.

The tougher-to-pick fruit are the (often gun-toting) underground dealers, growers, smugglers, gangs and Canadian-based crime organizations that continue to keep the black market flooded with pot. Legalization is supposed to shut them down. Beyond the pragmatic step of decriminalizing personal possession, there’s not much point in legalization if the criminal industry stays in business.

Plenty of anti-trafficking laws are already on the books. What’s needed is a strategic drug-enforcement campaign in support of the effort to create licensed and regulated operations.

Maybe this requires more state money devoted to busting big-time dealers. It certainly requires a stepped-up federal crackdown on the bad guys.

Without more backup from the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency, the current squabble between the locals and the state may wind up as a quaint little footnote to a large, failed experiment.