Politics & Government

Govs. Gregoire and Chafee ask DEA to reclassify marijuana

Gov. Chris Gregoire asked the federal government Wednesday to rescue states from legal limbo by allowing pharmacies to sell marijuana.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a political independent and former Republican senator, joined Washington’s Democratic governor in petitioning the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana.

They want the DEA to acknowledge the drug’s medical uses by downgrading it from Schedule 1, the home of heroin and LSD, to Schedule 2, which includes methamphetamine and cocaine but also more commonly prescribed drugs such as oxycodone and morphine.

Gregoire told reporters there’s a “huge volume of interest” from other governors in joining their effort. But their chances of success are uncertain, and in any case, they are probably in for a long wait. The DEA denied a different petition to reclassify the drug in June – nine years after the petition was filed.

Things have changed since the research leading to that denial, Gregoire said: “We know now that pharmacists actually can dispense this. We know that the chemistry is there to do so.”

Among other points, the 99-page petition says marijuana has never caused a lethal overdose and it’s less addictive than alcohol and caffeine. Gregoire said the petition is backed by three months of research and written with help from doctors. The concept is endorsed by much of the medical establishment, including the doctors of the American Medical Association.

“There are an awful lot of resources allocated to prosecuting marijuana usage that might be better allocated elsewhere,” said Tom Curry, CEO of the Washington State Medical Association.

And the CEO of the Washington State Pharmacy Association, Jeff Rochon, said in a statement that marijuana should be “managed and monitored under the expert guidance of pharmacists who are required to obtain a professional doctorate degree and undergo continuing education to maintain licensure.”

Gregoire said pharmacies should replace dispensaries as the way patients obtain the drug.

The storefront dispensaries that make up a growing industry in Washington won’t relish the thought of being replaced by Walgreens and Rite Aid.

“All of those people of course would be shut down,” said Kent Underwood, a Tacoma lawyer who represents several storefront operations. “You have big business potentially taking over. That has potentially a dramatic effect on the prices. Most of the people that are using medical cannabis are very poor anyway.”

Patients pay from as low as $200 to more than $400 for an ounce of marijuana now, Underwood said.

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