2 Governors Ask Federal Government to Reclassify Marijuana for Medicinal Purposes
Last week, the Governors of Rhode Island and Washington state petitioned the federal government to reclassify medical marijuana as a drug with accepted medicinal uses under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. As we’ve discussed previously on RACblog, the federal government has begun to target marijuana dispensaries in the 16 states (including Washington state and Rhode Island) and the District of Columbia that have legalized medical marijuana. With last week’s announcement, Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington state and Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island have now entered the discussion and used their considerable political voices in opposition to the targeting of marijuana dispensaries by the Justice Department and federal prosecutors.
To truly understand the significance of the governors’ announcement, let’s talk for a moment about the drug classification system: Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, which also includes substances such as heroin and L.S.D. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)describes Schedule I substances as those with the potential for high levels of abuse and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” Governors Gregoire and Chafee are urging the federal government to reclassify medicinal marijuana as a Schedule II controlled substance, which are substances with the potential for high levels of abuse but are not also described with a “no medicinal purpose” label. Schedule II substances are subject to restricted access as highly controlled medications that are prescribed in writing by a physician and are for use in pain management for a limited period of time in limited quantity.
Since marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, both Washington and Rhode Island have encountered difficulties legalizing and regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in their states. Last spring, the Washington state legislature passed a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana dispensaries and growers. However, Governor Gregoire was ultimately forced to veto much of the Washington state bill after the Justice Department warned that “state employees who conducted activities mandated by the Washington legislative proposals would not be immune” from prosecution under federal law. Around the same time, Governor Chafee of Rhode Island was forced to block a bill that authorized state-regulated marijuana dispensaries because the Justice Department had warned that prosecutors would target the dispensaries.
In 2003, the URJ passed a resolution expressing support for federal, state and local laws that would “allow the medicinal use of marijuana for patients with intractable pain and other conditions, under medical supervision.” According to our tradition, a physician is obligated to heal the sick (Maimonides commentary on Mishnah Nedarim 4:4). The use of marijuana as medicine can be traced back at least 5,000 years. Reports on the medical use of marijuana have indicated that it provides relief from symptoms and treatment side effects of several serious illnesses such as glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy, and muscle spasms that often accompany multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.
We will continue to monitor these events across the country as the federal government targets medical marijuana dispensaries and proposed state legislation. We also continue to hope that patients suffering from many painful illnesses, including cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis, will not be denied access to medical marijuana in the states where it is currently allowed.