March 17, 2011 in Opinion

Editorial: Marijuana bill should reflect shift in culture

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Because Congress refuses to update the absurd Controlled Substances Act, states are trying to figure out the best ways to implement the sane and popular wish that marijuana be made available for medicinal purposes. It’s not the first time states have become the laboratory for ideas that are eventually accepted nationwide.

By a wide margin, Washington state voters in 1998 passed a medical marijuana initiative, but the Legislature has never devised a system to implement it. This muddle has produced expensive police investigations and controversial arrests that have lost sight of the voters’ intent. Finally recognizing this, legislators are establishing a clear system for the purchasing and dispensing of medical marijuana. However, it has acquired some of the same out-of-date baggage that informs the 1970 federal ban.

The Controlled Substances Act puts marijuana in the Schedule I category, along with heroin, LSD and crack cocaine, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no medicinal value. This simply isn’t accurate.

The medical community accepts that it can be effective in quelling nausea and stimulating hunger in chemotherapy and AIDS patients and lowering eye pressure in glaucoma patients, among other uses.

The dangers of pot also do not match the irrational fears that started in the early 20th century and peaked during the counterculture era of the 1960s and 1970s, when the federal law was written.

The present bill does a thorough job of establishing a system for the legal production and distribution of marijuana, but heavy-handed amendments were added in the Senate before that body passed it. The amended bill would not allow medical marijuana to become a commercial enterprise, unlike other drugs. Nor could it be advertised as other drugs are. In addition, individual communities could choose to outlaw dispensaries.

The bill should put patients first by not erecting barriers that make it more difficult to legally obtain marijuana. The House should strip the bill of these excessive limitations.

Some law enforcement agencies are worried that the bill will make it more difficult to discern legal and illegal users through the sheer volume of transactions. That might be true, but why are the illegal activities surrounding pot of greater concern than other drugs, such as Oxycontin?

This bill represents a cultural shift in attitudes toward marijuana. Regulation and enforcement ought to reflect that reality.

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