Today the governors of two states that allow the medical use of marijuana asked the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify the drug so that doctors can legally prescribe it. In a letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee—both of whom have blocked plans to license medical marijuana dispensaries, citing fears of federal interference—complain that "the divergence in state and federal law creates a situation where there is no regulated and safe system to supply legitimate patients who may need medical cannabis." Washington voters approved medical marijuana in 1998, but last spring Gregoire vetoed a bill that would have authorized dispensaries, saying she was worried that state employees could be prosecuted for implementing it. The Rhode Island legislature approved a medical marijuana law in 2009, but two months ago Chafee announced that he would not allow dispensaries to open because "federal injunctions, seizures, forfeitures, arrests and prosecutions will only hurt the patients and caregivers that our law was designed to protect." Today Gregoire told The New York Times:
What we have out here on the ground is chaos. And in the midst of all the chaos we have patients who really either feel like they're criminals or may be engaged in some criminal activity, and really are legitimate patients who want medicinal marijuana.
If our people really want medicinal marijuana, then we need to do it right, we need to do it with safety, we need to do it with health in mind, and that's best done in a process that we know works in this country—and that's through a pharmacist.
Over the years the DEA has repeatedly refused to move marijuana out of Schedule I, a category supposedly reserved for drugs with a high abuse potential and no medical applications. The most recent rejection was in July, and it seems unlikely that Gregoire and Chafee's letter will change Leonhart's mind, although it may help distract attention from their decisions to flout the will of voters and state legislators.
Gregoire and Chafee are responding to the Obama administration's ever-shifting policy on medical marijuana, which I chronicle in the October issue of Reason. I revisited the subject in a column last month.