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

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36) Credit: 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.

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