December 2, 2011

OUR OPINION: LePage should urge legalization of medical pot

The governors of Washington and Rhode Island are taking the lead in addressing a problem that also exists here in Maine. Gov. Paul LePage would do well to join the fight.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island independent, and Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat from Washington, have petitioned the federal government to reclassify marijuana so that the medical marijuana programs in their states won't run into legal problems with federal law enforcement.

Maine people need that protection as well, and this situation is causing unneeded trauma for patients and care givers here.

Federal law classifies marijuana as a drug that is illegal in all circumstances. Sixteen states allow the legal distribution of cannabis for medical purposes. In Maine and the other states, a patient or caregiver could buy marijuana from a state-approved dealer and still face the risk of federal criminal prosecution.

This discrepancy was brought up by opponents of medical marijuana when the issue was before the voters in 2009, but the voters approved a law expanding the availability of medical marijuana though the creation of dispensaries. The state is licensing dispensaries, investors are putting money into them, and people with approved medical needs are relying on them for care.

Now is not the time to keep arguing about whether medical marijuana is a good idea: The voters decided that. Now we should focus on getting the substance to the people who need it, minimizing diversion to nonmedical users.

The best way to do that is through state regulation, but that is complicated by the fact that facilitating the production and distribution of marijuana is itself a criminal act under federal law.

The solution is simple. Rather than classify marijuana with drugs such as LSD and heroin, which are illegal under any circumstances, the federal government should group it with drugs such as cocaine and morphine -- illegal in most cases but permitted in a medical context.

LePage should join the other governors and petition the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana so people can use medical marijuana without fear of federal prosecution.

Maine voters have twice said that they want this care option for fellow residents. LePage should take that message to Washington.

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