Governors' right to fight for medical marijuana

Gov. Chris Gregoire has joined forces with the governor of Rhode Island in asking the federal government to change its views on marijuana.

Washington and Rhode Island have passed laws that allow marijuana use for medical reasons, decriminalizing the drug in those instances.

But federal law doesn't see pot as a useful medical tool, instead lumping it in the same category as heroin and LSD. Under federal law, marijuana is a Schedule 1 controlled substance and has "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."

That makes it tricky for states that have decriminalized marijuana to put those laws into practice for patients who could benefit from the drug. Users and state employees run the risk of federal prosecution even while within the bounds of state prescribed laws.

So Gregoire and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee have petitioned the federal government to bump marijuana down a level in its controlled substance rankings. As a Schedule II controlled substance, pot would be on the same caliber as cocaine, opium and morphine. Federal law dictates that even though those drugs can be addicting and ripe for abuse, they have some merits when prescribed for medical purposes.

We don't see why marijuana is seen as any more toxic than those three drugs, and it certainly doesn't seem to be on par with heroin and LSD. It makes a lot of sense to change the classification and allow the 16 states with medical marijuana laws to handle the legalities of prescription and distribution from there.

Perhaps more importantly, as a Schedule II drug, marijuana would be more readily available for clinical trials to determine how it might best relieve human suffering.

Gregoire called the situation in Washington chaotic, with legitimate patients made to feel like criminals or forced to engage in criminal activity to get the drug they need. If the federal law changed, pharmacies here could begin dispensing marijuana.

Voters approved medical marijuana in Washington back in 1998, but implementation of the law has been spotty because of the threat of federal prosecution.

The Legislature made an attempt to simplify the law earlier this year, but Gregoire vetoed major portions of the bill after Justice Department officials warned her that state employees following state mandates would not be exempt from federal prosecution.

Let's not forget that our governor also spent some time as the state's attorney general. Of all folks, she knows the difference between unintentional crimes committed by people just looking for relief from medical conditions and recreational pot smokers looking for a high.

We certainly don't want to end up like California, where just about anyone can find a reason to get a card allowing them to purchase "medical" marijuana from storefronts in strip malls.

California's handling of medical marijuana has made a mockery of the issue, complicating matters for states wanting to handle prescriptions and distribution for cancer patients and others who could benefit from the drug.

The governors face a tough fight to bring some common sense to the issue of medical marijuana. In June, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration said no once again to reclassifying pot.

But that shouldn't deter the states. The federal government needs to put marijuana in its proper place and allow states to take care of those with medical needs in an appropriate, safe and legal manner.