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Editorial: Feds’ harsh classification of pot disses voter wishes

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the chief medical correspondent for CNN, recently issued a public apology for suggesting that marijuana was as dangerous as the federal government has suggested. But the irrational fear of “demon weed” continues to plague efforts to make pot legal in the states.

To his credit, Gupta didn’t just change his mind; he is producing a documentary showing that science was never on the side of the federal government when it decided to put marijuana under the restrictive Schedule 1 classification. In a column for CNN, he wrote:

“On August 14, 1970, the Assistant Secretary of Health, Dr. Roger O. Egeberg, wrote a letter recommending the plant, marijuana, be classified as a schedule 1 substance, and it has remained that way for nearly 45 years. My research started with a careful reading of that decades old letter. What I found was unsettling. Egeberg had carefully chosen his words: ‘Since there is still a considerable void in our knowledge of the plant and effects of the active drug contained in it, our recommendation is that marijuana be retained within schedule 1 at least until the completion of certain studies now underway to resolve the issue.’ ”

So, pot was lumped with far more dangerous drugs as a precautionary measure. But the proof has never materialized, and Congress has refused to remove the shackles.

Pot is gaining wider public acceptance, with some polls showing more than half of people think it ought to be legalized. The voters in Washington and Colorado decided to do just that. But because the feds won’t budge on reclassification and outsized public fears remain, implementation will be needlessly complicated and messy.

The Washington Liquor Control Board, which was put in charge of implementation of the voters’ wishes, is working toward a November deadline for rule writing, but it won’t be easy.

Because pot is illegal on the federal level, the banking system cannot handle any money related to the business, even in states where it is legal. This raises the specter of all parties dealing in piles of cash with no access to banking services such as savings and checking accounts.

Because the initiative didn’t provide money to crack down on the illicit market, the fear is that prices for illegal supplies may undercut legal pot once taxes are imposed.

Because the state doesn’t provide a framework for medical marijuana, despite voters’ wishes, there’s concern that this market could also hurt the taxed and regulated recreational market.

Another complication: Municipalities may not allow recreational pot within their jurisdictions because leaders are philosophically opposed or their constituents were largely against it.

To its credit, the liquor board is committed to opening this market as best it can. The voters said they wanted it, and those wishes ought to be respected. I-502 was approved by 52 percent of Spokane County voters, a result local leaders should respect.

Nevertheless, implementation will remain difficult as long as Congress fails to knock down ridiculous federal barriers.

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