Governor Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island and Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington have petitioned the federal government to change the schedule of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, a move they claim will remove the conflict between federal drug laws and state laws that allow the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries. Colorado will file its own request before the end of the year.
Shortly after filing the petition, Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont signed on as well. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper apparently has no plans to sign the petition, but Colorado will file its own request to reclassify marijuana.
Currently, marijuana is listed as Schedule I by the Drug Enforcement Administration alongside heroin and LSD, which means that the federal government considers marijuana to have no accepted medical use.
“This is a good first step, in that it shows that politicians are catching up with the scientific consensus, which is that marijuana has medical value,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “If it succeeds, federal law will finally acknowledge that fact. Rescheduling marijuana, however, will not change the federal penalties for possessing, cultivating, or distributing medical marijuana,” he said in a prepared statement. “That is the change we really need. These governors should be insisting that the federal government allow them to run their medical marijuana operations the ways they see fit, which should include selling medical marijuana through state-licensed dispensaries.”
Rhode Island passed a law mandating the creation of three compassion centers throughout the state prior to Gov. Chaffee’s term, but Gov. Chaffee failed to implement the law, citing fears of federal enforcement against compassion center operators. Similar legislation was passed in Washington earlier this year, but significant portions of the bill were vetoed by Gov. Gregoire, including a plan to legally establish medical marijuana distribution centers. Both governors pointed to a series of threatening letters sent by U.S. attorneys suggesting that medical marijuana dispensaries could be targeted.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s spokesperson told Fox News that the governors had a valid point in pushing the petition.
“The governors in Washington and Rhode Island raise a valid conflict that needs to be resolved,” said Eric Brown, a spokesman for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “Colorado law requires we make a similar ask of the federal government by Jan. 1. We will do that. We will also continue to consult with other governors on this issue and with Colorado’s attorney general before deciding whether anything else will be done.”
Brown told The Colorado Independent that Hickenlooper would not sign the petition but that Colorado law requires the Colorado Department of Revenue to make the same request of the feds by no later than January 2012, and Brown said that will be done.
Mark Couch, spokesperson for the Department of Revenue, said the letter is currently in the draft phase and will be sent as required by law.
The pertinent section of HB 10-1284 is below:
(g) IN RECOGNITION OF THE POTENTIAL MEDICINAL VALUE OF
MEDICAL MARIJUANA, MAKE A REQUEST BY JANUARY 1, 2012, TO THE
FEDERAL DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION TO CONSIDER
RESCHEDULING, FOR PHARMACEUTICAL PURPOSES, MEDICAL MARIJUANA
FROM A SCHEDULE I CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE TO A SCHEDULE II
On the campaign trail, Hickenlooper said he supports medical marijuana but is opposed to broader legalization.
From the Fox story:
The DEA has rejected prior petitions seeking to reclassify marijuana, but Gregoire noted that this is the first petition signed by governors.
Gregoire also said the science on the issue has changed. The American Medical Association reversed its position two years ago and now supports investigation and clinical research of cannabis for medicinal use.
Gregoire said she was on a phone call in August with other governors in medical marijuana states and said that there was a “huge volume” of interest.
Asked why no other governors have signed onto the initial petition, Gregoire said she and Chafee wanted to take the lead on the initiative.
“I have every expectation that you will see other governors join us,” she said.
Anything that moves the medical marijuana issue along and advances public understanding of its therapeutic value is a plus. There was high hope that the Obama administration would reclassify marijuana and provide safe access to qualifying patients across the country. At the very least, the expectation was that the administration would leave 16 medical-marijuana states, including Washington, alone. Instead, the federal government has been a stubborn, unhelpful player.
Gregoire wins points for sticking her neck out. She and Chafee are the first governors to take this step. But she should have done so sooner. Reclassifying would be a big first step, but the federal process could take years. Still, medical marijuana advocates are impressed with the enormous amount of time and effort put into the exhaustive petition.
An editorial at Bakersfield.com, urged California Governor Jerry Brown to join in the petition as a way to increase public safety.
The governors want marijuana reclassified to Schedule II, which is the classification for cocaine, morphine and opiates, which have “some accepted medical use and may be prescribed, administered or dispensed for medical use.”
As we in California well know, conflicting state and federal views on marijuana have created a marketplace for medical marijuana that is void of legitimate regulation and patient safety protections.
A reclassification of the drug could potentially lead to marijuana being dispensed by pharmacies, which would be safer than, and preferable to, the hodgepodge system of dispensaries, doctor “recommendations,” patient cards and uneven enforcement that has resulted in illicit, back-door distribution to recreational users and unnecessary difficulties for legitimate medical users.
As recently as July, the DEA decided against reclassifying marijuana, but the decision was primarily based on old studies. A number of medical associations and organizations support the reclassification, including the American Medical Association, which reversed its position because current law limits clinical research.