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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Marijuana

Editorial: Pot policy gaining clarity

Attitudes about marijuana have changed, which is reflected in the positions of the four candidates for president. They either believe it should be legalized and regulated for adult use (Gary Johnson and Jill Stein) or left to states to decide (Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton).

So the trend toward acceptance, which began when the Obama administration took a hands-off approach to Washington’s and Colorado’s ballot initiatives, should continue regardless of who occupies the White House.

Furthermore, several states will vote this fall on whether to join Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska in legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Getting the federal government to budge on its outdated policies regarding marijuana has been difficult, but two encouraging developments have occurred in the past week.

On Tuesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals barred federal prosecutors from pursuing medical marijuana cases if the defendants haven’t violated their own state’s laws. The ruling involves 10 cases in Washington state and California.

The ruling is significant because 25 states have legalized medical marijuana. Last year, Congress barred federal prosecutors from further spending on medical marijuana cases.

In addition, the Obama administration is loosening restrictions on marijuana research, which should help crack the Catch-22 inherent in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. Under that law, marijuana is placed in the most severe category, alongside heroin, because there is “no medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Because of that Schedule 1 classification, researchers have limited legal access to marijuana to see if that’s true.

In 2011, then-Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire asked the feds to reclassify pot for medicinal use. The DEA rejected that request, saying scientific evidence is lacking, but at least the agency will now allow for the increased manufacture of marijuana so research can ramp up.

The University of Washington and Washington State University are expected to conduct pot research. If those studies show a medicinal value in pot, then DEA loses its Schedule 1 justification.

The feds’ “high potential for abuse” argument is on much shakier ground. There are more than 25,000 opioid overdoses annually in the United States. Most are from legal painkillers. The DEA itself reports no direct deaths from marijuana overdoses. The more dangerous drug is the legal one.

We would have preferred the DEA reschedule marijuana, because that’s where this is obviously headed. This nation has spent absurd amounts and ruined countless lives in a useless war against a substance that’s more benign than many legal drugs (and alcohol). Furthermore, pot’s federal outlaw status discourages banks from accepting proceeds from pot sales. This makes it an all-cash business, which is more dangerous.

The irrational fear of pot has kept a draconian federal law in place for 46 years, but voices of reason have emerged in the states. It’s now politically safe for federal lawmakers to get on board. Just ask the presidential candidates.

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