Governors Join Call to Reclassify Marijuana

Governors of Washington state and Rhode Island have jumped on the bandwagon, asking for the federal government to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I substance to a Schedule II. This is something that advocates of medical marijuana have pushed for in recent years, with the DEA denying the change as late as June of this year.

Sixteen states now have medical marijuana laws on the books, allowing for patients to legally possess and consume the plant to help them with chronic pain, glaucoma, cancer treatment, and other various medical conditions. The problem with the current arrangement, however, is the federal government’s insistence on enforcing federal marijuana laws that may run contrary to those of the states, those which were incidentally voted on by the people.

Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance. This is the most dangerous classification of drugs and marijuana shares the spot with things like LSD and heroin, which have a very high risk of abuse and “no accepted medical use”.

Governors Lincoln Chafee (R.I.- Democrat) and Christine Gregoire (WA.- Independent) are asking the feds to reconsider this classification, which would make it easier for states like theirs to safely regulate the use of medical marijuana without fear of federal intervention and prosecution.

Other drugs like cocaine are classified as Schedule II. This classification includes substances with a high risk of abuse but “some accepted medical use”. They “may be prescribed, administered or dispensed for medical use.” Because this description seems better suited to marijuana, it’s believed the substance would be a better fit as a Schedule II.

In June, the DEA denied changing classifications but the governors believe the medical community has changed their attitude towards the substance during the past few months. Even the American Medical Association (AMA) called for the reclassification of marijuana as early as 2009.

To Governor Gregoire, it doesn’t make any sense to classify marijuana as more dangerous than something like morphine. “People die from overdose of opiates,” she said. “Has anybody died from marijuana?”

States are struggling with how to best handle their medical marijuana programs, particularly as the feds continue to crack down on dispensaries, sending out warning letters that property owners will face prosecution if the dispensaries remain open. When the people vote to approve medical marijuana policies, it’s in the belief of many that the feds should simply mind their own business.

If the feds decided to change the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference for people accused of possession of marijuana. This is because pot possession is prosecuted at the state level and therefore state criminal laws would dictate the specifics of the charge.

If you are charged with a marijuana offense or possession of any controlled substance, we can put you in touch with a local attorney that may be able to help.

About David Matson

David writes about criminal justice issues.
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