On reclassifying marijuana

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee and Washington Governor Chris Gregoire announced today that they have filed a petition with the Drug Enforcement Agency asking for reclassification of marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug - on par with dangerous substances like heroin - to a Schedule 2 drug. The idea is that doctors could then prescribe marijuana for medical use.

The push gives both governors, who have taken heat for reining in their states' popular medical marijuana movements in the face of federal threats, a bit of political cover. But can it succeed as a policy initiative?

It's a long shot.

The idea is not a novel one. Petitions to reclassify marijuana were filed in 1972 and 1995 and both were denied after long regulatory reviews. The first decision took 17 years and the second took six.

The last petition came nine years ago. And the Obama Administration rejected it in July, just two months after the petitioners - led by advocacy group Americans for Safe Access - went to court in a bid to force a response from the federal government.

It seems unlikely that the administration, which made a show this year of cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries, will treat the Chafee-Gregoire petition any differently. Especially with an election around the corner.

But if marijuana activists were not pleased with the federal govenrment's July rejection, they were thrilled to get a response of some kind. Now, they can appeal the decision to the courts and present the growing body of evidence for marijuana's medicinal value.

It was just two years ago that the American Medical Association urged the federal government to reconsider the Schedule 1 classification. But the feds have trotted out the "not enough research" argument. Will the courts agree?

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