Monday, February 14, 2011

Editorial: Federal marijuana laws don’t keep pace with reality

Several efforts are under way in Washington state to loosen marijuana laws, from fully legalizing it to making in readily accessible to patients who need it for medicinal purposes.

A couple of bills have been introduced in Olympia and a voter initiative has been sent to the state for approval before signature-gathering begins.

But no matter what comes from this flurry of activity, a significant roadblock remains: Under federal law, the sale or possession of marijuana remains illegal.

As Jim McDevitt said when he was the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington: “I appreciate the arguments that it ought to be this, or ought to be that, but federally marijuana is still a scheduled drug. Period.”

The feds listed marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, where it remains today. This listing needs to be updated, because it does not reflect reality.

Schedule I means: “The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse. The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.”

Forty-one years later, we know that the menace of marijuana has been overstated and that it does have accepted medical uses, such as quelling nausea and stimulating hunger in chemotherapy and AIDS patients and lowering eye pressure in glaucoma patients.

There aren’t any sensible reasons why prescriptions couldn’t be written for marijuana, just as they are for Oxycontin and other drugs that can be abused with even graver consequences.

But the stigma of marijuana and its association with the counterculture remains a powerful emotional force, for which Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, has an apt response: “We grew up with cannabis. We have to grow up about it.”

Public attitudes have changed greatly. A recent poll in conservative Idaho shows strong support for allowing terminally and seriously ill patients to use marijuana. In 1998, Washington voters endorsed medical uses.

But here we are 13 years later with no legal way for patients to acquire pot, because of the muddle of legal interpretations.

The Obama administration has said that enforcing marijuana laws will not be a priority. But presidents change, so Congress should clear the air by modernizing federal laws so that a marijuana prescription can be readily filled.


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