Gov. Dannel Malloy says he plans to sign on to a petition by the governors of Rhode Island and Washington state asking the feds to reclassify marijuana so it can be used in medical pot programs.
“The governor continues to support the palliative use of marijuana for debilitating medical conditions,” according to Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba. A Malloy administration medical marijuana bill never made it through the 2011 General Assembly session but the issue is expected to be revived next year.
The two governors, Christine Gregoire of Washington and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, sent their petition to federal officials this week asking for grass to be reclassified as a “Schedule II controlled substance.” That would put it into the same category as cocaine, opium and morphine, all of which can be legally used for medical purposes and dispensed by pharmacies.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has also come out in support of changing the federal approach to marijuana regulation. He told Vermont Public Radio that government should focus its energy on halting the abuse of seriously addictive drugs.
“Vermont and Maine happen to share the distinction of having per capita the highest number of residents who are abusing Oxycontin and other opiates that are sold by pharmacies and are legal in America according to the FDA,” Shumlin said. “I personally thing that that’s a much bigger crime problem for us and a much bigger addiction problem for us that’s leading to crime than small amounts of marijuana.”
Right now, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, the same designation given L.S.D. and heroin, making it illegal under federal law for any purpose.
In their letter to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Chafee (a former Republican turned independent) and Gregoire (a Democrat) said the current “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.”
Rhode Island and Washington are among the 16 states with medical marijuana laws on the books, but an inconsistent federal enforcement policy has left both state officials and medical marijuana patients confused across the nation.
Federal agents recently conducted a series of raids against medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington, which legalized medical pot in 1998. The DEA shut down 10 dispensaries, including several in Seattle. Federal officials said only those dispensaries who were flagrantly selling large amounts of pot were targeted.
Rhode Island has approved a medical marijuana system that would include six dispensaries, but Chafee put the whole program on hold because federal prosecutors were threatening to arrest those operating the dispensaries.
“What we have out here on the ground is chaos,” Gregoire told the New York Times. She said the result is that 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.”
Doba said Chafee and Gregoire didn’t let other governors across the country know they were going to file the petition with the DEA.
Some pro-pot activists, like Morgan Fox, of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said reclassifying pot might be a good first step but insisted changing federal penalties for cultivating or distributing pot should be the top goal.
But Erik Williams, Connecticut director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says reclassifying pot “would change things dramatically.”
“It would give states more leeway to run their states as they see fit,” Williams adds. He calls Malloy’s support for the petition push “fantastic… It shows how mainstream this is – this isn’t fringe, it’s mainstream.”
Connecticut’s legislature this year voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but lawmakers couldn’t agree on what form a medical marijuana system should take. The lengthy debate over solving this state’s major deficit problems also created a logjam of controversial bills and convinced legislative leaders to push the medical pot issue off for another year.
The General Assembly passed a medical marijuana bill in 2007 only to have it vetoed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who argued sanctioning the sale of medicinal pot would send the wrong message about drug use.
Advocates of medical marijuana in Connecticut are hoping that 2012 will be the year that this state finally adopts its own program.