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.
Gregoire refused last winter to legalize and license storefront dispensaries, as the Legislature wanted.
She said she worried state employees could be prosecutors’ next target if they are forced to regulate marijuana sales.
The state’s 1998 voter initiative authorizing medical marijuana isn’t recognized by federal law that makes the drug illegal. As in other states, federal prosecutors on both sides of the Cascades have targeted dispensaries. Seattle U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said November raids focused on sellers operating outside the bounds of state rules.
Gregoire and lawmakers did agree to let patients grow marijuana in collective gardens. Seattle quickly interpreted that to allow storefront sales, while most other cities have cracked down on dispensaries. The Tacoma City Council hasn’t decided what to do.
The law “has resulted in considerable chaos around the state, because we now have it different depending on which particular county or city you’re in,” Gregoire acknowledged Wednesday.
Voters might be asked to weigh in again on next fall’s statewide ballot, this time on whether to legalize sales of the drug for recreational uses.
But Gregoire said only federal action would solve conflicting laws by allowing doctors to write a true prescription for the drug and pharmacists to fill it.
Her petition will make its way to the Food and Drug Administration, which she said will have to do a scientific review of the research conducted since it last considered the issue in 2006. The FDA makes recommendations to the DEA.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics Twitter: @Jordan_Schrader