SEATTLE (Reuters) - The governors of Washington state and Rhode Island filed a petition with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday that would allow doctors to legally prescribe marijuana as a medical treatment.
Democrat Christine Gregoire of Washington and independent Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island are asking the DEA to reclassify marijuana as a schedule 2 drug from schedule 1 - where it is listed alongside heroin and ecstasy - which would make it legal for doctors to recommend its use and pharmacists to supply it.
"Poll after poll shows an overwhelming majority of Americans now see medical marijuana as legitimate," said Gregoire of Washington, where pot-dispensing clinics have become popular in the 13 years since the state allowed them.
"Sixty percent of voters in our state said yes on a 1998 ballot measure. An ever-growing number of doctors now tell thousands of suffering patients they may find relief from the unique medicinal qualities of cannabis," she said in a statement.
Washington and Rhode Island are two of 16 U.S. states that allow the sale of medical marijuana in some fashion, even though the drug is still illegal under federal law.
The governors' petition will require the Federal Drug Administration to conduct a new scientific review and analysis of recent advances in cannabis research since the last time the FDA reviewed the matter in 2006.
The DEA said in a statement it received the petition and would review it. The agency also noted the Department of Health and Human Services previously reviewed a similar petition and rejected it.
After evaluating that previous request on scientific and medical grounds, HHS "determined that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S. and lacks accepted safety protocols for use under medical supervision," the DEA said in the statement.
The petition came weeks after authorities raided state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries across western Washington state, targeting storefronts deemed to be engaged in illegal drug trafficking and money laundering.
Federal prosecutors have said a recent crackdown on such dispensaries was not meant to target patients who have a legitimate medical need for pot but were focused on those engaged in drug trafficking.
(Reporting by Bill Rigby in Seattle with additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)