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Marijuana: 2 guvs petition feds to reclassify pot, but John Hickenlooper not ready to do so -- yet

This week, governors in Rhode Island and Washington asked the federal government to concede that marijuana has medical uses. A Colorado official is required to send a similar message by year's end -- but would John Hickenlooper consider following the lead of these fellow governors and do the deed himself? Not yet -- and while his spokesman leaves the door open to such a prospect, odds appear to be against it.

According to the New York Times article linked above, Washington's Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, and Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee, a Republican turned independent, petitioned the feds on this subject so that their respective states can regulate medical marijuana distribution without prompting a crackdown of the sort that's taken place in California and elsewhere. Their joint letter was sent to Michele Leonhart, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Colorado must take a similar tack within the next few weeks. As we reported in October, House Bill 1284, the 2010 measure that established the regulatory structure for medical marijuana in Colorado, contains a passage that enumerates the powers and duties of the state licensing authority. Under the heading "The state licensing authority shall," the seventh of them reads:

IN RECOGNITION OF THE POTENTIAL MEDICINAL VALUE OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA, MAKE A REQUEST BY JANUARY 1, 2012, TO THE FEDERAL DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION TO CONSIDER RESCHEDULING, FOR PHARMACEUTICAL PURPOSES, MEDICAL MARIJUANA FROM A SCHEDULE I CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE TO A SCHEDULE II CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE.

And who is the state licensing authority? An earlier section of the bill hands this role to "the executive director of the Department of Revenue or the deputy director of the Department of Revenue if the executive director so designates."

That means Barbara Brohl, who Hickenlooper appointed executive director of the DOR on June 30, must make such a request -- and DOR spokesman Mark Couch told us she will fulfill her statutory obligation by doing so.

Given the actions of Gregoire and Chafee, however, we posed the following four questions to Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown:

1. Would [Governor Hickenlooper] consider taking an action similar to the governors in Rhode Island and Washington and personally petition the government to reclassify marijuana as a drug with acceptable medical uses?

2. Would he consider adding his name and influence to the letter Barbara Brohl is required to send to the Drug Enforcement Administration?

3. If not, why does the Governor believe such actions are unnecessary?

4. Is the Governor unconcerned about possible federal action against the medical marijuana industry, which is now enshrined in state statute in the wake of a constitutional amendment approved by Colorado voters?

To that, Brown responded with this statement: "The governors in Washington and Rhode Island raise a valid conflict that needs to be resolved. Colorado law requires we make a similar ask of the federal government by Jan. 1. We will do that. We will also continue to consult with other governors on this issue and with Colorado's attorney general before deciding whether anything else will be done."

This last line may be a key to the likelihood of Hickenlooper taking a more prominent part in any petition. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers is arguably the state's most vocal critic of the medical marijuana industry. In February 2010, for instance, he wrote a letter to representatives considering MMJ regulation in which he went on record as "vehemently opposing any legislation that embraces the clinic or dispensary model for distribution of medical marijuana."

What recommendation would Suthers give Hickenlooper in this case? We shared the following two questions with Attorney General's Office spokesman Mike Saccone:

1. Would the attorney general recommend that Governor Hickenlooper petition the federal government to reclassify marijuana as having medical uses, as did the governors of Rhode Island and Washington?

2. If not, what would be his reasons for recommending against such an action?

Here's the response from Suthers: "We believe the governor should comply with Colorado law, which requires the executive branch to ask for the rescheduling of marijuana. We cannot comment on what legal advice we have given or will give to the governor on this matter."

That leaves the door open, too -- but not very wide.

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More from our Marijuana archive: "John Suthers's office fires back at marijuana activists over demand to sign ethics pledge."