For the fifth consecutive year, Washington's Board of Pharmacy has denied a petition to reconsider marijuana's status as a Schedule I controlled substance. Under the current state classification, marijuana has no "accepted medical use" and "lacks accepted safety for use in treatment." Of course, state law currently permits thousands of Washington residents to toke away their pain and treat dozens of illnesses with cannabis. Yet when Gov. Christine Gregoire stripped provisions for pot dispensaries and patient-arrest protection from the legislature's medical-marijuana reform package earlier this year, she cited pot's Schedule I status as one reason for doing so. It's a Catch-22 that has marijuana activists fuming and threatening to take their case to court.
Steve Sarich is fuming.
The petition to reschedule was brought by Steve Sarich, owner of Seattle's CannaCare dispensary and a medical-pot activist. "It was one of the most aggravating public hearings I have ever participated in," Sarich says. "It was obvious they were looking for any reason in the world to say no, and even when they ran out of reasons, they said no anyway."
Sarich argues the Board needs to reconsider marijuana's Scheduling status to clarify the contradictory state laws. "We've got conflict between two state laws," he says. "One says it has medical value and the other law says it has no accepted medical use in the U.S. Well, which one is it?"
Today Sarich vowed to "go into court and force them to hold a hearing," but he wasn't sure whether the target of his threatened lawsuit would be the Board of Pharmacy, the Department of Health, or the Governor herself, who he believes has power to order the state agencies to change marijuana's scheduling status.
Donn Moyer, a spokesman for the Department of Health, says requests to reschedule drugs "aren't common," and adds, "it's even less common that a drug actually is rescheduled." Moyer says the last drug to have its status changed was carisoprodol, a muscle relaxant, that was reclassified in 2009 after "an exhaustive two year process."
Moyer says rescheduling involves "a very complex, involved, state 'rulemaking process.'" (Click here for the full state law that pertains to rescheduling.) The determining factor in this instance is the drug's federal legal status. State and federal governments maintain their own separate (but generally similar) lists of controlled substances, and since 1970 marijuana has been classified as Schedule I by the feds. (A coalition of marijuana advocates are currently suing to compel the Obama Administration to answer a nine-year-old petition to reclassify medical marijuana.)
After gutting SB 5073 earlier this year, Gregoire said she would approach the governors and attorney generals of the 15 other states that allow medical marijuana about uniting to request the federal government to reclassify marijuana so that physicians would be allowed to prescribe the drug. Sarich, though, feels that the states should take the lead. "If we haven't rescheduled in Washington, what are we doing asking the DEA to do it?" Sarich asks.
Two states, Oregon and California, have already rescheduled pot, and a third, Iowa, had its Board of Pharmacy unanimously recommend that the legislature reclassify the drug.
A spokesman for Gregoire did not respond to a message inquiring about the Governor's marijuana-rescheduling efforts.