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The right way to regulate pot

Editorial

We'd like to see federal legislation that would treat marijuana like an ordinary prescription drug.

February 28, 2013
  • A bill introduced this week by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore) requires that marijuana be reclassified as no higher than a Schedule 3 controlled substance, making it similar to most other prescription drugs, and leaves oversight to the states.
A bill introduced this week by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore) requires that… (David Paul Morris / Bloomberg )

Political movements like the tea party may come and go, but the pot party seems to get stronger with every national election, putting the federal government in an increasingly untenable position.

To date, more than one-third of the states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, at least for medical purposes, and, according to Americans for Safe Access, eight other states are considering bills to do the same. As a result, we're getting close to the point where half the country will have legalized a drug designated a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the federal government, meaning it has no known medical uses and is as dangerous as heroin. This has been an overly restrictive classification since it was imposed in 1970, yet what's remarkable about the anti-prohibition movement is that it still hasn't prompted the government to reconsider its stance. A bill in Congress would do just that, but it also points out that there's a right way and a wrong way to proceed.

The bill introduced this week by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) is the wrong way. It requires that marijuana be reclassified as no higher than a Schedule 3 controlled substance, making it similar to most other prescription drugs. But it leaves oversight to the states. Although other drugs are controlled by the Drug Enforcement Administration and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, marijuana would be a class unto itself: The bill exempts marijuana from control by these agencies, allowing any state to legalize it and come up with its own regulatory framework for producing and distributing it. When it comes to licensure, quality control, testing, enforcement of distribution laws and so on, the states would be on their own.

We've already seen where that road leads. California's experiment with medical marijuana has been a regulatory nightmare, in part because of confusion and conflict with federal law, but also because coming up with a new regulatory framework for a drug whose medical value is uncertain is difficult and expensive. Who's to say whether the marijuana sold at the corner dispensary is uncontaminated, or has no harmful side effects, or really contains active ingredients in the amount the seller claims, or will really cure what ails you?

Regulatory failures have made it all too easy for recreational pot smokers to get their hands on the drug, even though that's not what California voters intended when they legalized medical marijuana in 1996. What we'd like to see is federal legislation that would treat marijuana like an ordinary prescription drug, complete with FDA oversight. Anything less would probably just add to the confusion and abuse.

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