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Gregoire's case for medical pot cuts into feds' tangled legal web

As governors, Chris Gregoire and Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee have the legal standing to force a federal response to their complaints about keeping marijuana out of pharmacies. But the feds have so far proven obstinate in their position.     

A marijuana plant growing in a national wildlife refuge.

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

Carol Hadle calls her tiny pot pipe "my little bullet." All sorts of pain take turns attacking her.

Hatpin-like pricks. Mild heat flowing through her body. Electric-like shocks. Really bad. No so bad. No real pattern. Exhausting.

Sometimes her limbs act and feel like spaghetti. Her hands constantly tremble. She cannot hold a thin pen, instead using fat ones to produce clumsy childlike writing. The Tacoma woman suffers from Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease — a slowly progressive genetic neurological disorder. The nerves carrying signals between her muscles and her brain and spinal cord work haphazardly. Her body's internal messages of pain and touch are messed up.

"I would do anything for relief," said Hadle, who had to quit her housekeeping job because of the pain and shakiness.

She takes vicodin and methadone. And marijuana helps. A lot.  "I'd like to be able to go  down to my pharmacy and pick it up," Hadle said.

The medical relief experienced by Hadle, 44 years old, and many other patients has put Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, a former state attorney general, and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee in the forefront of states' efforts to push the federal government to reform its handling of marijuana under drug laws. They are seeking changes in the federal rules that make it impossible for doctors and pharmacists to treat marijuana as a prescription drug.

Physicians and pharmacists are blocked from using marijuana as a drug by the fact that marijuana is classified by federal agencies as a Schedule I drug, and not a Schedule II drug, as Gregoire and Chafee seek.

Schedule I means a drug has no current accepted medical use in the United States. Schedule I drugs include marijuana; heroin; GHB, the infamous date-rape drug; and LSD. The bottom line is that doctors cannot prescribe these drugs to be picked up at pharmacies.

Schedule II means there is a current accepted medical use, but the drug has a high potential for abuse, including possibly severe psychological or physical dependencies. Schedule II drugs include morphine, methadone, fentanyl, methamphetamine, hydrocodone, cocaine, and even PCP. The bottom line is that doctor are legally allowed use or prescribe these drugs. 

That sets up a conflict between the federal government and 16 states that have passed laws to allow medical marijuana in limited amounts. Federal law trumps state law, if the feds are in the mood to enforce it. That conflict led Gregoire to veto most of a medical marijuana bill earlier last year, citing the danger of state employees being arrested by the feds.

"The laws are confusing," said Dr. Gregory Carter, a Centralia physician and a University  of Washington Medical School faculty member who has extensively studied medical marijuana. "Patients are confused. Physicians are very confused." 

In November, Gregoire and Chafee sent a letter to President Barack Obama, Congress, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the federal Food and Drug Administration ito request that medical marijuana be reclassified as a Schedule II drug — the first time that state governors have made this request. Since then, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, and Connecticut have voiced their support.

Because the 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. 

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) makes the actual decision about a drug, but relies on U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make recommendations on the scientific and medical matters, including the schedule classifications. The DEA referred questions to the FDA. The FDA has evaluated a number of petitions over the past several years for the DEA on reclassifying marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule, and recommended Schedule I each time, said FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess.

"Schedule I substances have a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and lack accepted safety for use under medical supervision," Burgess wrote in an email about the feds' reasons for keeping marijuana as a Schedule I drug.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Apr 4, 7:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Right on! And I'm not a medical (or otherwise) pot user but have family members who are like my daughter in MT who has a script for medical marijuana for chronic pain syndrome from injuries sustained due to a traumatic car accident. Obama and Holder are not doing the right thing!

cstegman

Posted Wed, Apr 4, 7:51 a.m. Inappropriate

From "The Economist":

http://www.economist.com/node/13237193

Failed states and failed policies
How to stop the drug wars
Prohibition has failed; legalisation is the least bad solution
Mar 5th 2009

Concludes with this paragraph=>

A calculated gamble, or another century of failure?

This newspaper first argued for legalisation 20 years ago (see article). Reviewing the evidence again (see article), prohibition seems even more harmful, especially for the poor and weak of the world. Legalisation would not drive gangsters completely out of drugs; as with alcohol and cigarettes, there would be taxes to avoid and rules to subvert. Nor would it automatically cure failed states like Afghanistan. Our solution is a messy one; but a century of manifest failure argues for trying it.

=============

It is quite clear that what is happening now is NOT working. It is far too expensive both in terms of government spending and social costs. Current drug policy is counterproductive. The prohibition on drugs creates an incredibly lucrative business environment for those interested in the money in illegal drug distribution.

There are several segments of our population that are beneficiaries of current drug policy. Investors in the privatization of prisons are hardly alone in benefiting from current US drug laws.

Look at the difference between England and Switzerland for a guide to future direction.

Good Job Gov. Gregoire ... lets get started in the right direction.....

Posted Wed, Apr 4, 11:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Marijuana and its derivatives have been a valuable and safe medicine for centuries and it is illogical to allow alcohol and tobacco which are major killers but not marijuana!

henrykuh

Posted Wed, Apr 4, 11:29 a.m. Inappropriate

The medical usefulness of marijuana is low, though not zero.

Just legalize it, tax it, and get it over with.

Posted Wed, Apr 4, 2:14 p.m. Inappropriate

It will be hard to fight Big Pharma on this. There has been an active, successful campaign to switch "illegal" drug use over to pharmaceuticals. Pharma can't make much money off of pot, and they will be reluctant to let go of the income stream from oxycodone and pseudoephedrine, which can be manufactured legally in nafta-approved factories in Mexico.

andy

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