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It would be nice to think that medical marijuana laws did nothing more than provide some compassionate relief for terminally ill patients.

Nice and naive.

As the session in Madison ends, we're relieved that two Democratic state legislators, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, failed in their efforts to mellow out anti-drug forces. They proposed a bill that would protect those with prescriptions for marijuana from prosecution.

We have always sympathized with cancer patients and others whose debilitating pain warrants such relief. But the recent follies of other states illustrate the need to strictly control how the pot is given out.

Many of the 14 states that have instituted such laws have learned the hard way that they're vulnerable to abuse. During a series of busts last year, California law enforcement agents found authorized dispensers selling to people whose only ailment was a swollen wallet.

Yet, Pocan and Erpenbach are eager to set up similar nonprofit "compassion centers." Those would need to be closely monitored, and does anyone want slimmed-down state government to beef up for a new oversight role right now?

Perhaps if the task were left in the hands of traditional pharmacies, which already act as gatekeepers for some otherwise illegal drugs, the idea would be more palatable here. A new Associated Press-CNBC poll suggests 6 in 10 Americans favor legalizing marijuana for medical uses.

We're also dubious of vague eligibility categories. Almost one-sixth of those allowed to smoke pot in the Golden State slip by with prescriptions for "mood disorders."

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A law filled with loopholes can only undermine the anti-drug messages being conveyed to youths. Marijuana already carries less stigma, school health officials say, and a proposal to legalize it for everyone in California threatens to exacerbate that trend.

Besides the well-known health impacts that worsen with lasting use, research indicates pot smoking paves a path to other, more dangerous narcotics. Plus the chemicals in marijuana can turn up in tests weeks after use - costing kids jobs or roster spots on sports teams.

That doesn't sound like a compassionate ending.

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