Marijuana

Marijuana: Colorado to formally ask DEA to designate pot Schedule II controlled substance

The Drug Enforcement Administration dubs marijuana a Schedule I controlled substance -- meaning it has no accepted medical use. Switching pot to Schedule II, like morphine and cocaine, among other drugs, would instantly change the dynamic between the feds and medical marijuana states. And a Colorado spokesman confirms that his agency will make such a request by year's end.

Not that the state has a choice. Hidden within the language of House Bill 1284, the 2010 measure that established the regulatory structure for medical marijuana in Colorado, is 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 was appointed executive director of the DOR on June 30 by Governor John Hickenlooper, is the person directed to make such a request. She hasn't designated this role to a deputy because, says Department of Revenue spokesman Mark Couch, there is not presently a deputy to whom she could do so.

Did the folks at the department remember this was on their state-mandated to-do list before receiving a call from Westword? That's unclear. But Couch emphasizes that Brohl will do so. "There's a 'shall' on this in 1284," he points out.

"It's on her radar," Couch adds. "She is aware of it. And I talked to the director of the Enforcement Division, George Thomson, and he's aware of it, too."

How and when will such a request be made? Will Brohl simply write a letter? Or will she pull together a more robust package featuring data demonstrating marijuana's medical qualities and Colorado's buy-in, as epitomized by a constitutional amendment and a regulatory scheme applied to hundreds of MMJ enterprises statewide? To whom at the DEA or the Justice Department will this material be addressed? And what kind of follow-up/lobbying will or will not accompany it?

All of that is "in development, at their discretion," Couch says. And while he doesn't have a timetable for the submission yet, he expects that it will "probably be sent closer to the deadline."

In other words, there's a lot up in the air. But what's not is Brohl's charge -- to formally request that the DEA move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts