Pubdate: Tue, 07 Jun 2011
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2011 Helena Independent Record
Author: Charles S. Johnson


A Missoula legislator suggested Monday that the federal government 
"delist" the regulation of medical marijuana and leave it up to state 
control, just as was done with the Northern Rocky Mountain gray 
wolves this year.

Rep. Diane Sands proposed the idea in an email sent to some of her 
Democratic colleagues, and she will send similar notes to Republican 
legislators and Gov. Brian Schweitzer. She was a leading Democratic 
legislator on the medical marijuana issue in the 2011 session after 
chairing an interim committee that studied the issue extensively last year.

"I think this is a unique movement in time to once and for all get 
this addressed at the federal level," Sands said in an interview Monday.

At present, she said, there's little a state Legislature can do to 
regulate medical marijuana, given the federal government role. In 
addition, the federal government's stand on medical marijuana can 
vary with different presidents and their appointed attorneys general.

"That just creates such uncertainty to people who are medical 
marijuana patients or providing medical marijuana to them," Sands 
said. "There's no stability."

Her comments followed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's comments in 
Rhode Island last week that he intended to clarify the Justice 
Department's stance on state medical marijuana laws. Holder's 
comments came after federal prosecutors in a number of states, 
including Montana, have warned they might prosecute licensed growers, 
despite state laws.

Montana's U.S. attorney, Michael Cotter, issued a warning letter in 
response to a request for his position from the presiding officers of 
the Montana House and Senate in April.

In her email, Sands wrote:

"I think we all agree that states have an extremely limited ability 
to act and regulate medical marijuana, given the U.S. attorney's most 
recent letter about the implications of marijuana's controlled 
substances status."

She noted that Holder intends to issue further clarification soon.

"It seems clear no initiative, state legislation or state court 
action can expand regulatory authority if the federal government 
chooses to exercise the Controlled Substances Act restrictions," Sands said.

"It appears to me that there is a window of opportunity to change the 
federal status if states act together to request a 'delist and 
provide for state regulation' model similar to wolf management."

Earlier this year, Congress passed a bipartisan rider to the 2011 
federal budget bill. That rider ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service to reinstate the 2009 wolf delisting decision and barred 
further court challenges.

Sands, noting the number of states, mostly in the West, that have 
legalized medical marijuana, suggested that perhaps some state 
governors, led by Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Washington Gov. Chris 
Gregoire, could be approached to push the effort to delist medical marijuana.

Schweitzer is in China for two weeks.

In addition, Sands said legislators in states that have legalized 
medical marijuana might be able to advocate for such an effort at 
meetings of their national groups, the National Conference of State 
Legislatures and the Council on State Government.

"Even if it were not to happen, it would be at the least a bold 
request," Sands said. "The least we should do is make the request."

Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann, R-Billings sponsored the bill 
that ultimately became law this session without Schweitzer's 
signature to tighten restrictions on the industry.

He said Sands is proposing an exemption from the Controlled 
Substances Act, the federal law that regulates marijuana and other 
illegal drugs.

Essmann said he would prefer to take a different approach. He favors 
letting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration study a prescription 
drug, Savitex, produced from a marijuana derivative, which has been 
approved for use in Europe.

"I think during the session and prior to the session and since the 
session, I've heard from a lot of people if it's medicine, why isn't 
it handled through the pharmacy and regulated by that," he said of 
marijuana. "I had one physician tell me he thought the cart was ahead 
of the horse. The science should develop and then we should take the 
appropriate legal action."
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart