Sixteen states -- including Washington and Oregon -- have legalized marijuana for use as a medicine.
Yet, medicinal marijuana can't be obtained by prescription through a pharmacy. It is a violation of federal law. So, each state has concocted a distribution method aimed at circumventing federal law. Some systems are better than others, but many are a joke and too easily abused.
Those who truly need marijuana for their medical conditions are frustrated and so are local law enforcement agencies. This is an insane approach.
But this week Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee joined forces in an attempt to bring sanity to a problem that's been festering for two decades.
Gregoire and Chafee petitioned the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana as a drug with therapeutic value so it could be sold as a prescription drug. Gregoire said this is necessary to end the "chaos and conflict" caused by the conflict bettween state and federal laws.
"In the year 2011, why can't medical cannabis be prescribed by a physician and filled at the drugstore just like any other medication? The answer is surprisingly simple. It can. But only if the federal government stops classifying marijuana as unsuitable for medical treatment," Gregoire said.
We agree and have long recommending this as the solution to many of the problems caused by differences in state and federal laws.
One would think that federal officials would want to have marijuana tightly regulated and sold through pharmacies just like pain pills that contain narcotics. No, this would not stop all the bogus medical claims used to obtain marijuana, but it would stop the vast majority.
Frankly, just about any system would be better than the mess we have now. Take a look at what's going on in California.
The medical marijuana laws in the state and the regulation of marijuana dispensaries are so lax that pot is essentially legal. Claiming to have a bad back or bum knees is sometimes all it takes to get approval for marijuana.
A few years ago Los Angeles Times columnist Joe Stein did several pieces on the subject, including one detailing how easy it was for him to legally obtain medical marijuana.
"There are more medical-marijuana dispensaries in LA than Starbucks. Most are like nice tea shops, where salespeople behind a counter open glass jars so you can smell the Sugar Kush, look at the Purple Urkel under a magnifying lens and ask about the effects of Hindu Skunk," Stein wrote.
Gregoire recently vetoed legislation making marijuana dispensaires legal because she said it would have put state workers at federal risk of criminal or civil penalties. Nevertheless, there are dispensaries across the state and they have been targets of federal raids.
"We've (filed the petition) out of frustration ," Gregoire said.
All 16 states that allow medical marijuana should get behind this plan and convince the federal government to make the drug available by prescription at pharmacies.