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Marijuana reclassification bill passes committee vote in the Senate

OLYMPIA – A bill demanding the federal government loosen up marijuana restrictions

Justin RunquistVancouver Democrat Craig Pridemore, front-left, and other senators listen to testimony on the bill.

moved forward in the state Senate Thursday afternoon.

The bill, Senate Joint Memorial 8017, bolsters support for a letter Gov. Chris Gregoire sent to Washington, D.C., earlier this week requesting that the federal government reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to Schedule II status, where it would be permitted for medical use.

The Drug Enforcement Administration lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug, deeming that it has no medical value and may not be dispensed for treatment. However, the classification conflicts with Washington law, which permits the use of medical marijuana.

The measure passed through the Senate Committee on Health and Long Term Care with unanimous approval, including a vote from Vancouver Democrat Sen. Craig Pridemore.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, is the lead sponsor for the bill. Before the vote, Kohl-Welles and several members of the public testified to the committee.

“Other drugs that have, I believe, much more harmful impact on individuals’ health, such as codeine and cocaine-related drugs, are able to be prescribed and regulated,” Kohl-Welles said.

Vancouver representatives Democrat Jim Moeller and Republican Paul Harris support reclassifying marijuana, as well. They joined 40 other legislators in signing Gregoire’s letter earlier this week.

“Right now, we’ve got state laws that are in conflict with federal laws and it’s a mess,” Harris said in an interview.

Harris is one of only seven Republicans to sign the letter. He said he doesn’t expect the letter will effectively convince the federal government to reclassify marijuana but that it sends an important message anyway.

Moeller said medical marijuana patients should be allowed to obtain the drug from dispensaries without the fear of arrest by federal law enforcement agents.

“It hasn’t worked the way it currently is,” Moeller said in an interview. “It’s classified as a narcotic, and we’re locking people away that don’t need to be locked away.”

The bill now moves on to the Rules Committee, where it could soon be scheduled for a floor vote.