Pubdate: Sun, 09 Feb 2014
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal (NV)
Copyright: 2014 Las Vegas Review-Journal
Author: Steve Sebelius
Page: 1D


As local governments in Nevada struggle with how to implement the laws
on medical marijuana dispensaries, one fact looms in the background,
casting a shadow over the entire enterprise.

The federal government still says marijuana is a highly addictive drug
with no medical benefits.

Of course, that's false. Scores of doctors have prescribed marijuana
to patients for dozens of conditions, and hundreds of people have
testified about how it helped them fight debilitating illnesses and
body-wracking treatments for dreaded diseases such as cancer. And the
National Institute on Drug Abuse has reported that about 9 percent of
people who use marijuana become dependent on the drug, far less than,
say, alcohol.

But that hasn't made a difference to the federal government. Marijuana
still sits on the list of Schedule I controlled substances, alongside
heroin, LSD, the date-rape drug GHB and the club drug Ecstasy,
otherwise known as MDMA. And it doesn't look like there's any appetite
to change that designation.

If there were, many problems faced by Southern Nevada local
governments would be fixed: Even moving marijuana to Schedule II, a
list of drugs that are controlled but that have medical value, such as
codeine, hydrocodone or fentanyl, would be an improvement. With a
prescription, you can pick up many Schedule II drugs at your
neighborhood pharmacy, without the need to create special
dispensaries. (A note to readers: In a recent column, I confused some
Schedule II drugs for Schedule I - apologies for the error.)

Recently, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid said he'd changed his views on medical
marijuana, and he opined that America wastes law enforcement resources
chasing marijuana users. Reid is in a position to do something about
that, and changing the marijuana classification would be a huge first

I'm not talking about outright legalization here, the way Colorado and
Washington state voters have done. It's just a small change in a
federal classification scheme, and if Nevada's federal delegation
really wants to help out the local governments in Nevada, they should
all come together with a bill to make the change. (Full disclosure: My
wife works in the public communications office of the city of Las
Vegas, which this week voted to seek more information about medical
marijuana dispensaries.)

But I'm guessing this is not going to be a priority for Nevada's
congressional representatives. Why? Because nobody wants to open
themselves up to attack as sympathetic to drug use, even one where
underground use is as widespread as marijuana. (I guarantee most of
you reading this know somebody who uses marijuana or has in the past,
and most of those people do so with few ill effects, if any.)

That's why we're in this situation in the first place: Activists gave
up on trying to change federal law, and began working at the state
level, and started with the slightly more socially acceptable medical
marijuana. In 20 states, pot is legal for medical use. In Nevada,
voters approved it in 1998 and 2000, but the Legislature failed to
fully implement the law until last year. The dispensary law that
passed in Carson City is what local governments are struggling with

And looming over their heads is federal law. While President Barack
Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have said they won't make
prosecution of medical marijuana a priority, it still happens. And
what if a Republican president and a Republican attorney general take
over in 2016 and decide to crack down on pot? The law in America
should not change simply because the occupant of the Oval Office does.

By his own admission, Obama was an avid pot smoker earlier in his
life. He of all people should know that marijuana doesn't belong on
Schedule I. Until it isn't, most local officials will always be
reluctant to act, opening a dispensary will always be more complicated
and controversial than it should ever have been, and sick people will
wait a little longer to legally get their medicine.
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