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State putting pressure on D.C. to get real about medical marijuana

The feds are legally obligated to respond to Gov. Gregoire on a request to allow doctors and pharmacies to handle it as a drug. And the state Senate may add its voice in favor of reform

A marijuana plant growing in a national wildlife refuge.

A marijuana plant growing in a national wildlife refuge. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36)

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36) Washington Legislature

Another Washington nudge is in motion to try to get the Feds to redesignate medical marijuana as a Schedule II drug. 

Schedule II means that doctors could prescribe marijuana and pharmacies could handle the drug. Under longstanding practice, the Feds have marijuana set as a Schedule i drug — meaning it cannot be prescribed nor sold through pharmacies. 

That sets up a conflict between the federal government and 16 states that have passed laws to allow medical marijuana. That conflict led Gov. Chris Gregoire to veto most of a medical marijuana bill last spring, citing the danger of state employees being arrested by the Feds.

Last November, Gregoire and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee sent a letter to President Barack Obama, Congress, and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to request that medical marijuana be reclassified as a Schedule II drug — the first time that state governors have made this request.

Since that request came from governors, the feds are legally obligated to reply. However, there is no limit to the time that the Feds can wait before replying other than a "reasonable" period, said Jason McGill, Gregoire's executive policy adviser for health care. 

Recently, 42 Washington legislators sent a similar letter to the same addressees. And now, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, is trying to get the Legislature to pass a resolution — dubbed a "memorial" — to make the same request. To the same people, as an extra push.

The Senate's Health and Long-Term Care Committee held a public hearing Thursday on Kohl-Welles' memorial. And it heard conflicting views.

John Worthington of Renton, a medical marijuana, said the redesignation request is too political, and it should go through the state's pharmacy board first. "I don't think it's proper to tell the federal government to just move it over to Schedule II. ... It doesn't respect the process enough." McGill said a thick packet of scientific justifications accompanied Gregoire's and Chaffee's original letter.

He told the committee: "This is necessary — necessary for patients in need to obtain it in pharmacies where there're other medicines."

Meanwhile, Ezra Eickmayer, representing the Washington Alternative Medicine Alliance, argued that medical marijuana shoudl be redesignated to the even-more-lenent Schedule IV category.

Committee member Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said he is OK with medical marijuana for "people with end-of-life" problems, but criticized "some of the phoniness out there (with) .... weekend rentals of rooms where these (medical marijuana) authorizations are created." Jim Cooper, representing the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention, said medical marijuana could best be handled through pharmacies. Cooper and Carrell said a medical marijuana distribution system would have to be regulated, with standards, certifications, and a comprehensive tracking system.

The Senate committee unanimously sent the memorial to the full Senate.

John Stang covers state government for Crosscut. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Feb 3, 8:54 a.m. Inappropriate

"Getting real" would be legalizing and regulating marijuana.

The medical value of marijuana is microscopic.

Posted Fri, Feb 3, 12:07 p.m. Inappropriate

The hypocrisy in all of this is astounding and it is all about the benjamins. The State, dispensaries & growers all want it to be regulated and/or taxed. They want marijuana to continue to be priced at $10 per gram ($280 per ounce) when it really can be produced for $10 an ounce.

Marijuana should be regulated the same way as home brewing and/or wine making. This would eliminate the ridiculous pricing and lure for criminal activity that surrounds marijuana. The amount of money saved in law enforcement and corrections would far outstrip what could be raised in taxes.

Posted Fri, Feb 3, 6:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Jesus said to do unto others as we would have them to do unto us. None of us would want our child or grandchild thrown in jail with the sexual predators over marijuana. None of us would want to see an older family member’s home confiscated and sold by the police for growing a couple of marijuana plants for their aches and pains.
If the people who want to use marijuana could grow a few plants in their own back yards, it would be about as valuable as home-grown tomatoes; it would put the drug gangs out of business and get them out of our neighborhoods.

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