Marijuana as medicine should be available by prescription

Last week 42 Washington state lawmakers took appropriate action when they sent a letter to the DEA asking marijuana be classified as a prescription drug.

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Marijuana, which is commonly used as a street drug for so-called recreational purposes, can also be used for medical reasons. It's widely accepted that marijuana or the chemical substances in marijuana can be used to ease the suffering caused by cancer and other conditions. This is why 16 states -- including Washington and Oregon -- have legalized marijuana as medicine.

Unfortunately, those who have a legitimate medical need for marijuana cannot obtain it at a pharmacy like thousands of other medicines. Instead, those who could benefit medically for marijuana are expected to bob and weave through a maze designed to circumvent federal laws and law enforcement agencies. As a result, a great many people who are not sick and only looking to get high take advantage of a poorly designed, unenforceable system to obtain pot.

Late last year Gov. Chris Gregoire and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee joined forces in an effort to get the federal government to regulate marijuana as a Schedule II drug, essentially reclassify marijuana as a prescription medicine.

Last week 42 senators and state representatives from Washington state -- 35 Democrats and seven Republicans -- sent a letter to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration asking that it reclassify marijuana.

We doubt that the DEA or Congress or any federal agency will be moved by the Gregoire-Chafee request or the letter from state lawmakers to make marijuana a prescription drug. This is an election year and policy matters with even any hint of controversy have zero chance of being approved.

Nevertheless, it is going to take strong supports from state political leaders and the public to give the members of Congress the political courage to adopt this common sense approach. We have for several years been recommending this as the solution to many of the problems caused by differences in state and federal laws.

Yes, we understand that marijuana is too easily abused as a street drug. But this step should reduce the problem, not increase it. It seems as if DEA officials would want to have marijuana tightly regulated and sold through pharmacies the same way as pain pills that contain narcotics. This approach gives federal agencies better control.

Sure, there would still be some making bogus claims by those wanting to get stoned, but that happens now with prescription pain pills. It is something doctors, pharmacists and medical professionals are aware of and they try to stop it.

The current situation is a mess. It needs to change.

The actions taken by Gregoire and the 42 lawmakers -- about 30 percent of the Legislature -- are a necessary step in making that necessary change.

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