Medical cannabis: Change federal law

Forty-two state legislators from both parties have asked the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to reclassify cannabis so that it can be used medically.

Reclassification would enable states to establish laws for the regulation of medical cannabis without fear of reaction from federal enforcement agencies. In April, bowing to threats from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most parts of a bill legalizing medical cannabis. A day earlier, as if to reinforce their message that U.S. marijuana law trumps state law, federal agents raided medical cannabis dispensaries in Washington state.

For medical cannabis to be legally available to those whose health would benefit from it, it’s clear federal law must be changed. Voters in 16 states have legalized medical cannabis. The Washington State Legislature approved a bill legalizing and regulating medical cannabis. But federal law doesn’t distinguish between medical cannabis and recreational marijuana. And so, without a change in federal law, the conflict will continue.

There is a difference between medical cannabis and what Willie Nelson calls “a fat Austin torpedo.” Medical cannabis uses certain chemicals in the cannabis plant that have been shown to have medicinal value and can be taken by capsule, extract, spray or smoking. Medical cannabis has been used to relieve nausea and pain, lower eye pressure in glaucoma patients, and stimulate hunger in patients with disease-related weight loss. Federal law should be changed to allow people to have the same access to medical cannabis as they do other prescription medications.

Under state Senate Bill 5073, medical cannabis would have been regulated by the state Department of Health. Production, processing and dispensing would have been regulated and licensed. A qualifying patient’s medical use of cannabis would have been authorized by a health care professional and registered with the state.

This bill would have allowed cities to adopt appropriate enforcement, licensing and zoning for medical cannabis dispensaries within their boundaries. Lacking such direction from the state, Poulsbo and other cities have issued moratoriums on medical cannabis dispensaries.

Mary Clare Kersten, a coordinator of Sensible Washington, which supports the legalization of cannabis, called dispensaries “an act of mercy” to those who need medical cannabis but have no access to it. She said dispensaries are run like pharmacies and require documentation not unlike a prescription. And they can dispense medical cannabis in a form that will best benefit the patient’s condition.

“It’s not a stoner shop. It’s a medical marijuana shop,” she said.

Federal law should be changed to reflect, and allow, that.


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