Wash., R.I. govs seek marijuana rescheduling

The governors of Washington and Rhode Island announced today they’ve petitioned the federal government to move marijuana off its list of most-restricted drugs so that their states can implement their medical marijuana laws without conflict.

Sounds like good news for drug-reform advocates, right? Not exactly. Some of the nation’s most prominent drug reformers agree with the governors’ request, but not their motivation for making it; others caution there’s still much more to be done.

Rhode Island has a medical-marijuana law on the books since 2006 but Gov. Lincoln Chafee has balked at implementing a planned system of dispensaries. Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire earlier this year vetoed parts of her state’s medical marijuana bill dealing with establishment of dispensaries. Both governors cited federal prosecutors’ threats.

Drug Policy Alliance founder and executive director Ethan Nadelmann said the governors should be asserting their states’ rights and implementing their laws, not using federal law’s ban as a reason to punt.

“The governors’ call for re-scheduling marijuana so that it can be prescribed for medical purposes is an important step forward in challenging the federal government’s intransigence in this area,” he said. “But their call should not serve as an excuse for these two governors to fail to move forward on responsible regulation of medical marijuana in their own states. Governors in states ranging from New Jersey and Vermont to Colorado and New Mexico have not allowed the federal government’s ban on medical marijuana to prevent them from approving and implementing statewide regulation of medical marijuana. Governors Gregoire and Chafee should do likewise.”

Steph Sherer, executive director of the Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, was somewhat more satisfied, “strongly applauding” the governors’ move.

“We look forward to a time when patients do not have to live in fear,” she said, but she also encouraged both governors to go ahead with medical marijuana production and distribution programs in the meantime.

Marijuana Policy Project executive director Rob Kampia agreed the two governors’ request is “a good first step, in that it shows that politicians are catching up with the scientific consensus, which is that marijuana has medical value.”

“Rescheduling marijuana, however, will not change the federal penalties for possessing, cultivating, or distributing medical marijuana. That is the change we really need,” Kampia said. “These governors should be insisting that the federal government allow them to run their medical marijuana operations the ways they see fit, which in these cases includes allowing regulated distribution centers to provide patients with safe access to their medicine and not force them to turn to illicit dealers.”

Only Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), issued a statement of unmitigated support – unmitigated even by adequate punctuation, creating the most awesome run-on sentence I’ve seen recently:

(T)o finally witness governors so frustrated with the absurdly mis-scheduled cannabis plant as being dangerous, addictive and possessing no medical utility (wrongly grouped with heroin and LSD) that they are reaching out to the president to fix this clear injustice and warping of science is a clear demonstration that the friction between the federal government’s recalcitrance on accepting medical cannabis (or for that matter ending Cannabis Prohibition in total) and state politicians who can no longer justify towing the fed’s ridiculous ban on physician-prescribed cannabis to sick, dying and sense-threatened medical patients is coming to a dramatic conclusion in a government showdown, one that may bode well for the larger Cannabis Prohibition reforms needed, festering just below the surface of the public’s mass acceptance of medical access to cannabis.

I ran out of breath just reading that.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.