Starting on Oct. 1, medical marijuana will be legal in Connecticut. Although our state's medical marijuana law was carefully designed to minimize the risk of federal invention, the legal reality is that the federal government can still prosecute anyone growing, selling or even using marijuana in compliance with state law. Our state leaders should act to protect Connecticut's citizens, and call on President Barack Obama to allow medical marijuana at the federal level.
Despite the president's 2008 campaign promise to not interfere with states' medical marijuana programs, his administration has shown it is all too willing to crack down on dispensaries — even ones complying fully with state law — with its recent raids of Oaksterdam University and threats of property seizure against Harborside Health Center, both in California. Marijuana remains in the most restrictive legal category, Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it is officially recognized as having a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in treatment.
To put this in perspective, other Schedule I drugs include heroin and LSD, while Schedule II (defined as having a high potential for abuse and a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions) includes cocaine and PCP. Paradoxically, the FDA-approved Marinol, which is simply a synthetic form of the chemical THC found in marijuana, is under Schedule III, defined as having a lower potential for abuse and an accepted medical use.
If President Obama wants to make good on his campaign promise, he could direct the Drug Enforcement Agency to look at the facts and move marijuana to a more appropriate schedule, such as II or III. This would lift the federal prohibition on marijuana for medical use and allow states to regulate it without fear of federal interference. It would also enable marijuana to be prescribed to patients and dispensed at a pharmacy, rather than forcing legislatures to use legal loopholes and allow doctors to "recommend" it and have patients buy it from dedicated dispensaries. Most important, rescheduling would allow much more research to be done on the effects of marijuana, allowing us to better understand its uses and how to administer it as safely as possible.
The fact that the Obama administration could quickly and easily end federal interference in medical marijuana is no secret. Last year, Govs. Christine Gregoire of Washington and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island jointly filed a petition to the DEA asking that marijuana be reclassified to at least Schedule II, and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed on to the petition almost immediately. Unfortunately, their request has gone nowhere; the Obama administration simply ignored it. The advocacy group Americans for Safe Access is appealing a decision by the DEA to ignore its own rescheduling request.
Connecticut's elected leaders, including our congressional delegation and Gov.Dannel P. Malloy, must join with other states to put pressure on the Obama administration to look honestly at the science and reschedule marijuana. They have all shown great support for medical marijuana in the past. Mr. Malloy campaigned on the issue in 2010, and his support was key in making Connecticut the 17th state to permit medical marijuana this year.
TheU.S. House of Representativesrecently held a vote to block federal funding for raids on medical marijuana dispensaries; although the motion failed 262-163, all five of Connecticut's representatives voted against federal interference.
Nationwide, support for medical marijuana consistently polls at well over 70 percent, significantly higher than President Obama's own approval rating, which currently hovers around 47 percent. Connecticut is the country's most recent state to allow medical marijuana, and if allowed to be implemented, its law will be one of the most responsible in the nation. Our state leaders need to stand up for the rights of Connecticut's patients — and the will of its voters — and advocate for the end of federal interference in state medical marijuana programs.
Sam Tracy, 21, of South Windsor, former student body president at the University of Connecticut, is a board member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. He is a senior majoring in political science and sociology. The Courant invites writers younger than 30 to write essays of 650 words or less containing strong views. Please email your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org, with your full name, hometown, daytime phone number, age and occupation (or your school's name and your level in school). You can also fax op-eds to 860-520-6941.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times