Pubdate: Fri, 09 Dec 2011
Source: Olympian, The (WA)
Copyright: 2011 The Olympian
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


There is a move afoot to pass an initiative to legalize marijuana in 
Washington state.

Gov. Chris Gregoire is going down a different path. She has 
petitioned the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify 
marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug, which would allow doctors to 
prescribe medicinal marijuana and pharmacists to fill the 
prescription without fear of arrest by federal authorities.

Gregoire's is the more legally sound approach because a legalization 
initiative would put Washington law in conflict with federal drug laws.

Public views on the legalization issue are strong on both sides. 
Hoping to capitalize on a shift in public attitudes in favor of 
legalization of small amounts of marijuana, supporters have drafted 
Initiative 502 -- an initiative to the Legislature. The measure 
decriminalizes and taxes recreational use of marijuana with a system 
of state-licensed growers, processors and stores with a 25 percent 
excise tax imposed at each stage.

Under the initiative, adults 21 and older could buy up to an ounce of 
dried marijuana, one pound of a marijuana-infused product sold in 
solid form such as brownies, or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused 
liquids. It would be unlawful to operate a motor vehicle with more 
than 5 nanograms of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, per 
milliliter of blood.

Supporters say the state could -- conservatively -- generate $215 
million a year in tax revenue under the legalization measure.

Initiative backers have until Dec. 30 to collect 241,153 signatures 
to put the matter squarely before lawmakers for the 2012 Legislative 
session in January. Legislators would have three options: pass the 
legalization initiative into law, pass an alternative version and 
send both to the ballot, or ignore the initiative in which case it 
would advance to the November 2012 ballot.

The legalization push gained considerable traction recently when two 
former Seattle U.S. attorneys and the former head of the local FBI 
office climbed aboard the bandwagon.

But Initiative 502 faces serious legal pitfalls. Not only could 
federal agents raid and shut down the state-licensed pot growers and 
retail stores, they could ask a judge to simply throw out the entire 
decriminalization system on the grounds that it is in direct conflict 
with federal law.

Whether states like Washington and Colorado can get away with 
enacting legalized distribution systems -- whether they can regulate 
a substance that is illegal under federal law -- is unclear.

That's why Gregoire has aimed her effort at the federal level. Change 
the federal classification of marijuana, the governor says, and the 
state would have clear authority to license and distribute marijuana 
to medical patients -- as authorized by voters through Initiative 692 
in 1998. The measure passed with a 59 percent favorable vote.

The governor was joined in her request by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an 
independent from Rhode Island.

"Poll after poll shows an overwhelming majority of Americans now see 
medical marijuana as legitimate," Gregoire said. "Sixty percent of 
voters in our state said yes on a 1998 ballot measure. An 
ever-growing number of doctors now tell thousands of suffering 
patients they may find relief from the unique medicinal qualities of 
cannabis. There is simply no question that pharmacists could safely 
and reliably dispense cannabis to patients -- just as they do for 
other controlled and more problematic drugs."

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency classifies marijuana as a 
Schedule 1 drug. According to the DEA, drugs listed in Schedule 1 
have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United 
States and, therefore, may not be prescribed, administered, or 
dispensed for medical use.

Gregoire and Chafee urged the DEA to list marijuana as a Schedule 2-V 
drug -- a drug that has accepted medical use and may be prescribed, 
administered, or dispensed for medical use, with controls.

Without the change in federal classification and with state law at 
odds with the federal law, Gregoire said medicinal marijuana patients 
find themselves caught in the middle.

"People weak and sick with cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other 
diseases and conditions suddenly feel like -- or in fact become -- 
law breakers," she said. "In the year 2011, why can't medical 
cannabis be prescribed by a physician and filled at the drug store 
just like any other medication? The answer is surprisingly simple. It 
can. But only if the federal government stops classifying marijuana 
as unsuitable for medical treatment."

Getting the feds to reclassify marijuana would clear the path for 
medicinal use and bring more certainty than the gamble that the feds 
will turn a blind eye to a decriminalization law passed by the 
Legislature or voters.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom