April 16, 2011 in Opinion

Editorial: Obsolete view on marijuana holding back state efforts

 
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Background and the latest updates

As the Washington Legislature heads toward adoption of a bill that permits marijuana growing and distribution systems for medicinal use, federal prosecutors are loudly clearing their throats and reiterating that such a law would not prevent them from prosecuting activity it deems illegal. As a result, Gov. Chris Gregoire says she won’t sign the bill.

Gregoire sent a query to the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Wednesday and got a tandem reply the next day from U.S. Attorneys Mike Ormsby of Spokane and Jenny Durkan of Seattle. They warned that anyone along the supply chain could be prosecuted and that dispensary property could be seized. Ormsby had issued an earlier warning, but the letter to the governor put the consequences in stark terms.

This is the part that caught Gregoire’s attention: “In addition, state employees who conducted activities mandated by the Washington legislative proposals would not be immune from liability. …”

She said she could not sign a law that would expose state workers to prosecution, according to the Associated Press.

So, once again this issue returns to the same dead end constructed by an absurd, out-of-date federal categorization of marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Yes, the same law signed by President Richard Nixon remains the controlling legal authority on pot.

What does Schedule I mean? “The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse. The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.”

This definition is obsolete, but Congress has failed to address the matter in the intervening 41 years except to increase the penalties. Marijuana does have accepted medical uses, such as quelling nausea and stimulating hunger in chemotherapy and AIDS patients and lowering eye pressure in glaucoma patients. It should not be in the same category as heroin.

There is no rational reason marijuana could not be treated the same as prescription painkillers, which have an even higher potential for abuse. Perhaps politicians can’t kick their paranoia of this “hippie drug,” a characterization that is as archaic as the federal law.

Whatever the case, well-meaning state laws will continue to be stymied as long as Congress sits on the sidelines. The citizens of Washington state spoke clearly in passing the medical marijuana initiative in 1998. Both houses of the Legislature have passed bills to enable a practical application of the law.

It’s time for members of the Washington delegation to carry this message to a myth-addled Congress: Tune in and stop dropping out.

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