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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: End Reefer Madness

State must take lead in research to push federal reclassification of marijuana

The Columbian
Published: August 16, 2016, 6:03am

A disappointing directive issued recently by the federal government demonstrates the antiquated fashion in which the United States approaches marijuana laws.

Responding to a request delivered in 2011 by then-Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, officials announced that marijuana would remain on the government’s list of Schedule I drugs, indicating that there is “no accepted medical use” for cannabis. This likely comes as a surprise to the millions of people across the country who have found that marijuana can ease symptoms for disorders such as epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, and multiple sclerosis. Some 25 states have approved the drug for medical use.

But, in a classic Catch-22 of bureaucracy, the Obama administration said there is no scientific proof of these benefits — because there has been a dearth of scientific research. For years, the federal government has limited scientific examination of the issue by designating one small facility at the University of Mississippi as the only acceptable grower of research-grade marijuana. The message to proponents of marijuana for medical or recreational use: “You can’t research the drug because we won’t allow you to grow it, and you can’t prove its benefits because there is little research.”

With marijuana remaining on the list of Schedule I drugs, it is lumped into a category with heroin and LSD. It is not difficult to build an argument that marijuana is more beneficial and less dangerous than those drugs, but decades of failed drug policy have hampered the establishment of proof to that end. “We will remain tethered to science, as we must and as the statute demands,” said Chuck Rosenberg, acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency. “It certainly would be odd to rely on science when it suits us and ignore it otherwise.”

As part of the recent directive, federal officials did ease restrictions upon marijuana research. Washington officials should quickly move to become party to the broader research to, if warranted, put a dent in the outdated federal prohibition.

In the meantime, Washington’s marijuana laws likely will not be impacted by the federal ruling. The state approved medical marijuana in 1998, and voters adopted legalized recreational use for adults in 2012. More recently, the Legislature has taken necessary steps to reconcile the state’s medical market with the recreational market. Yet those steps remain tenuous and beholden to the whims of whichever administration is in power at the federal level. The Obama administration has opted to not enforce federal law upon Washington’s marijuana markets — so long as steps are taken to keep the drug away from minors and off the black market; a different administration might take a more oppressive approach.

In truth, marijuana should be treated as more akin to alcohol — a social drug whose use should not be encouraged but should be an individual decision to be made by adults. Yes, there is a possibility of abuse, but regarding it as similar to heroin or LSD flies in the face of logic and has instigated decades of indefensible enforcement efforts.

Current federal drug policy was adopted in 1970 at a time when the Nixon administration was fostering a social war between the establishment and the counter-culture of the time, and it is an example of absurdity that the ethos of that era still influences marijuana laws. It is past time for significant research to commence in order for this nation to put an end to its reefer madness.