This move by the governors marks the latest development in a larger struggle to curb the threat of a federal crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries operating in accordance with state drug laws.
The governors aim to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, along with cocaine, morphine and opium, drugs that, while they do have the potential for abuse and addiction, can also be dispensed for medical uses. Marijuana is currently classified as Schedule I drug, along with heroin, LSD and mescaline.
Washington and Rhode Island are two of 16 states, and the District of Columbia, that have laws allowing the medical use of marijuana.
“Each of these jurisdictions is struggling with managing safe access to medical cannabis for patients with serious medical conditions,” the 99-page petition and report reads. “Our work with the federal agencies has not resolved the matter.”
“The divergence in state and federal law creates a situation where there is no regulated and safe system to supply legitimate patients who may need medical cannabis,” wrote the governors in their letter.
“State and local governments cannot adopt a regulatory framework to ensure a safe supply is available for – and limited to – legitimate medical use without putting their employees at risk of violating federal law.”
Gregoire said that the conflict between state and federal laws means legitimate patients lack a regulated and safe system to obtain marijuana.
“It is time to show compassion and time to show common sense,” she said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
The legislation was passed to set clearer regulations on medical marijuana use and to establish a licensing system and patient registry to protect qualifying patients, doctors and providers from criminal liability.
Gregoire vetoed provisions of the bill that would have licensed and regulated medical marijuana dispensaries and producers. She also nixed a provision for a patient registry under the Department of Health.
“There’s chaos and conflict between what the states are doing and what the Justice Department is threatening to do,” said Chafee, who was on Wednesday’s conference call with Gregoire.
Morgan Fox of the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project said the petition was a “good first step” but reclassifying the drug will not “change the federal penalties for possessing, cultivating or distributing medical marijuana.”
“That is the change we really need,” Fox said in a news release. “These governors should be insisting that the federal government allow them to run their medical marijuana operations the ways they see fit, which in these cases includes allowing regulated distribution centers to provide patients with safe access to their medicine and not force them to turn to illicit dealers.”
“The governors’ call for re-scheduling marijuana so that it can be prescribed for medical purposes is an important step forward in challenging the federal government’s intransigence in this area,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance in a statement Wednesday.
“But their call should not serve as an excuse for these two governors to fail to move forward on responsible regulation of medical marijuana in their own states.
Governors in states ranging from New Jersey and Vermont to Colorado and New Mexico have not allowed the federal government’s ban on medical marijuana to prevent them from approving and implementing statewide regulation of medical marijuana. Governors Gregoire and Chafee should do likewise.”
There is currently an effort in Washington state to decriminalize and tax recreational marijuana sales for adults. Initiative 502, which has been endorsed by two former Seattle U.S. attorneys and the former head of the FBI in Washington state, would create a system of state-licensed growers, processors and stores, and would impose a 25 percent excise tax at each stage.
Adults 21 and over could buy up to an ounce of dried marijuana; one pound of marijuana-infused product in solid form, such as brownies; or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids. It would be illegal to drive with more than 5 nanograms of THC, the active ingredient of cannabis, per milliliter of blood. [via Huffington Post, ABC and Fox News]