Four state governors are lobbying the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify the status of marijuana so that pot can be prescribed, distributed and used for medical reasons.
The high-level support for the reclassification of marijuana highlights the growing divide between states and the federal government on medical cannabis. Sixteen states plus the District of Columbia have MMJ laws, but the government still deems medical marijuana illegal and recently initiated a widespread crackdown on the industry.
Two governors – Chris Gregoire in Washington State and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island – formally asked the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration this week to classify marijuana as a Schedule 2 – rather than a Schedule 1 – drug. Another, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, intends to officially support the petition as well, while Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper will make a similar request by the end of the year, as required by the state’s MMJ laws.
Under the current classification, marijuana is seen as having no legitimate medical use. That means dispensaries and cultivation operations in states with medical pot regulations are technically illegal, according to federal law. Shifting marijuana to a Schedule 2 drug would essentially allow doctors to prescribe the drug, businesses to dispense it and patients to use it.
The four states that support reclassification all have some type of laws on the books allowing the use – and in some cases the sale – of marijuana for medical purposes. Anyone using, dispensing or growing cannabis in these states, however, is violating federal laws and could face prosecution.
While similar petitions have been filed by various groups in the past, this marks the first time one has the public support of state governors, giving it more weight.
Still, experts say it’s highly unlikely that the pressure will sway the DEA, which has been firm in its stance on the drug. At the same time, a reclassification wouldn’t actually protect patients and the industry, as federal penalties for using, growing or dispensing medical pot would remain the same.
“This 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,” Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. But what the industry really needs, Kampia added, is for the governors to insist “that the federal government allow them to run their medical marijuana operations the ways they see fit, which should include selling medical marijuana through state-licensed dispensaries.”