Why does dispensing marijuana strictly for medical purposes have to be such a complex and divisive issue?
Those who want to take a strong stand against illegal street drugs use marijuana as the prime example — tagging it as the gateway drug to cocaine, meth and heroin.
And while marijuana can lead to the use of more dangerous drugs (which is why we are against general legalization), it can also be used effectively as medicine. This is why 16 states — including Washington and Oregon — have legalized marijuana as medicine.
But while pot can legally be used as medicine, it is still illegal in the eyes of federal DEA agents — and that’s the conundrum.
In Washington state, this Catch-22 is creating serious problems for many.
Since marijuana is legal as medicine and can be sold as such, the state Department of Revenue is taxing it. Since 2010 the Department of Revenue has warned marijuana establishments that they must remit sales taxes on their transactions. Some 50 dispensaries have registered with the state, helping the state collect some $750,000 in taxes from the industry over the span of one year, according to The Associated Press.
There are apparently other establishments not paying the tax because their owners fear that if they register they will make themselves a target for federal arrest. In addition, prescription medical drugs cannot be legally taxed.
The state sees it differently. Since marijuana is not sold through a pharmacy like other doctor-approved medicines, it is subject to taxation.
All make reasonable arguments.
Unfortunately, as long as the federal government continues to treat all marijuana as an illegal substance, this mess will continue.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee joined forces last year in a common-sense effort to get the federal government to regulate marijuana as a Schedule II drug, essentially reclassify it as a prescription medicine. We have long recommended this as the solution to many of the problems caused by differences in state and federal laws.
We understand marijuana is too easily abused as a street drug. This, however, will make it easier, not harder, to crack down on those abuses. DEA officials would be able to better track marijuana used as medicine as it would be tightly regulated and sold through pharmacies the same way as pain pills that contain narcotics. This approach gives federal agencies better control.
Those faking illness or injury just to get stoned — as happens now with prescription pain pills — would face scrutiny from doctors, pharmacists, medical professionals and law enforcement.
Treating marijuana like every other prescription medication would solve a lot of problems.