Maple Valley City Council backs effort to have feds reclassify marijuana
By TJ MARTINELL
Covington Reporter Reporter
March 15, 2012 · Updated 10:01 PM
The Maple Valley City Council has thrown its support behind the movement for the federal government to reclassify medical marijuana as a Schedule II drug.
At its Feb. 21 meeting, the City Council approved a motion to support a Nov. 30, 2011 joint letter submitted by Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Gov. Christine Gregoire to Administrator Michele Leonhart of the Drug Enforcement Administration. In the letter, they requested that Leonhart consider reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule II drug.
Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means it has a high potential for abuse and cannot be sold or used under any circumstances. Changing it to a Schedule II drug would allow it to be used for medical purposes.
The governors’ letter, however, only supports the non-smoking use of medical marijuana.
Washington voters passed Initiative 692 in 1998, which protects the physicians who prescribe medical marijuana for those with terminal or debilitating conditions, as well as the patient, under what is called affirmative defense.
In an affirmative defense, the defendant offers a defense that bars, or prevents, the plaintiff’s claim, and in doing so limits or excuses a defendant’s culpability or liability in the case.
According to the text of the initiative, “If charged with a violation of state law relating to marijuana, any qualifying patient who is engaged in the medical use of marijuana, or any designated primary caregiver who assists a qualifying patient in the medical use of marijuana, will be deemed to have established an affirmative defense to such charges by proof of his or her compliance with the requirements provided in this chapter.”
Affirmative defense, according to the initiative would protect both physician and patient from being “penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, for such actions.”
Until the DEA decides to reclassify medical marijuana, federal preemption makes any state action irrelevant, according to City Manager David Johnston.
“It doesn’t matter what the state governments do,” he said. “That’s what’s lost within this debate within the state. It doesn’t matter what the states do to make marijuana legal or not. It’s still a federal crime.”
Federal preemption refers to the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution, which invalidates any state law which contradicts a federal law.
By reclassifying marijuana to a Schedule II, Johnston stated, the legal confusion over matters such as medial marijuana gardens would be easier to settle.
“If it’s a legal drug, then its prescribed by physicians through a truly regulated process because it would then be dispensed through pharmacies, not the question mark of medical dispensaries or collective gardens,” Johnston said. “It’s treated like any other medicine.”
The legal ambiguities, Johnston added, it what led to the City Council’s support for the governors’ petition.
“You’re starting to see a lot of cities sign onto this letter and asking the DEA to evaluate and make it a regulated drug that is compliant with federal law,” he said.
Mayor Bill Allison stated he decided to support the letter because he believes there are legitimate medical uses for marijuana.
“I’ve had very close friends who have family members who have suffered from cancer and the only way to dull the pain was medical cannabis,” he said. “It was the only thing that worked, and I think if we look at taking it from a something that is sold on the streets and dispensaries and we make it federally regulated, it provides regulation and control.”
The city first dealt with the issue of medical marijuana in July 2011, when they passed a year-long moratorium on dispensaries and collective gardens.
But, as the one year mark approaches, the city will have to decide what to do from there.
“We still have options,” Johnston said. “We can pretend there’s no preemption and we’ll try to regulate the industry using state law as our guide. We won’t focus on the regulating of the business as part of the law. You can regulate the medical marijuana. We might just focus on land use. Or we can just do nothing and then it’s laissez-faire. Then what happens is if they have a collective complaint there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Allison also stated the laws have made it difficult for the city to put the right codes in place.
“We don’t have zoning for the gardens and dispensaries and that’s something where we want to make sure we have all of our ducks in a row and that we’re doing it right,” he said. “The hard part is having the state law disagree with the federal.”
The motion to support the letter was made after a report by Councilor Layne Barnes, who serves on the Public Issues Committee of the Suburban Cities Association (SCA PIC), which is currently considering whether to support Gregoire’s letter.
Contact Covington Reporter Reporter TJ Martinell at email@example.com or 425-432-1209 ext. 5052.