University News

Chafee ’75 asks DEA to loosen pot restrictions

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 and Christine Gregoire, governor of Washington, filed a petition with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to request that marijuana be reclassified as a Schedule II controlled substance, allowing it to be prescribed in states that legalized medical marijuana.

The reclassification would not legalize medical marijuana in all states but would recognize its legitimate use in states that have legalized the drug for this purpose. A disconnect currently exists between state legislation and federal policy, since certain states — including Washington, California and Rhode Island — have legalized medical marijuana without federal authorization.

 “It’s just one more step in the process to find a way to allow Rhode Island to administer medical marijuana in a way that will not bring the federal government down on compassion centers,” said Christine Hunsinger, Chafee’s director of legislative affairs.

Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I substance, which designates it a drug with “high potential for abuse” and no accepted medical uses, according to the DEA website. The same classification is applied to LSD, peyote and heroin.

Chafee’s collaboration with Gregoire “shows a bicoastal and bipartisan effort to work together on this problem,” Hunsinger said. “They fully expect and fully hope that other governors will move together on this position.”

The General Assembly passed legislation in 2009 allowing the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana through state-licensed compassion centers. In March, after three centers had been selected to receive state licenses, Chafee received a letter from U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha notifying him that such centers violated federal law and that the federal government could exert its full power in raiding and these facilities and charging their operators.

In January, the DEA released a document reasserting its position on marijuana. One section of the document, entitled “The Fallacy of Marijuana for Medicinal Use,” cites the Food and Drug Administration’s declaration that no scientific data support “the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use.”  

“The DEA and FDA are horrible organizations when it comes to this issue,” said Casey O’Dea ’14, co-president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. “The scheduling of marijuana as it is right now completely flies in the face of all scientific and empirical evidence.”

O’Dea added that marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug severely restricts academic research on its potentially beneficial uses. “They’re really creating their own roadblocks,” he said.

“This is the first time any governor has openly asked the federal government to reschedule,” O’Dea said. “Hopefully, this will be a positive step.”

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