The petition filed by Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington and Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island asks the government to change marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs are those determined to have no accepted medical use in the United States. Schedule II drugs are those that have some accepted use and can be prescribed, administered or dispensed with controls, according to Gregoire's office.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia currently allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes; 10 more states are considering doing the same.
"State and local governments cannot adopt a regulatory framework to ensure a safe supply for -- and limited to -- legitimate medical use without putting their employees at risk of violating federal law," Gregoire, a Democrat, and Chafee, an independent who was once a Republican senator, write.
"The situation has become untenable for our states and others. The solution lies with the federal government."
The issue has been on prominent display in California, where several cities, including Los Angeles, are considering moves to close down marijuana dispensaries because of concerns that local laws regulating the enterprises cannot be enforced.
"An ever-growing number of doctors now tell thousands of suffering patients they may find relief from the unique medicinal qualities of cannabis. There is simply no question that pharmacists could safely and reliably dispense cannabis to patients," Gregoire said in a separate statement.
The appeal from Gregoire in particular carries weight given her status as chair of the National Governors Assn.
She and Chafee urged the DEA to hold public hearings on the issue before initiating a formal rule-making process. Their petition includes statements from the American Medical Assn. urging the federal government to reassess the Schedule I classification.
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance that favors legalization, said the governors' petition may be a way of deflecting criticism each has faced for blocking implementation of state medical marijuana regulations.
But their appeal, he added, could nonetheless "help jump-start the broader movement for rescheduling."
The DEA had no immediate statement on the governors' petition.