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The Pharmacy Board and the Demon Weed 

George Washington grew it, Shakespeare might have smoked it, and its use in medicine dates back some 5,000 years. But until last week, the State of Oregon regarded it as a dangerous drug in the same category as heroin and LSD.

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George Washington grew it, Shakespeare might have smoked it, and its use in medicine dates back some 5,000 years. But until last week, the State of Oregon regarded it as a dangerous drug in the same category as heroin and LSD.

Bowing to scientific evidence and common sense, the state Board of Pharmacy voted to reclassify marijuana from a "Schedule I" controlled substance to a "Schedule II" one. Schedule I drugs are those that have a "high abuse potential and no acceptable medical use in the United States." Schedule II drugs also are deemed to have a high abuse potential but are recognized as having legitimate medical uses, such as the painkiller oxycodone and cocaine, used as a topical anesthetic in some surgeries.

The pharmacy board's move might seem trivial, but in fact it's an important step. It makes Oregon the first state in America to officially recognize that marijuana has legitimate medical uses, which means physicians can now legally prescribe it here. (Schedule I drugs, because they have no recognized legitimate medical use, can't be prescribed.)

For recreational pot users and dealers, the pharmacy board's decision doesn't change anything; possession of more than an ounce or sale of any amount remains a criminal offense. But for users and advocates of medical marijuana, it's a big symbolic victory.

It may turn out to be a practical victory as well if it paves the way toward a more sensible medical marijuana policy nationwide. Right now, Oregonians who use medical marijuana live in legal limbo: The state says they can do it, if they've jumped through all the required hoops, but the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance. "The [state] act neither protects marijuana plants from seizure nor individuals from prosecution if the federal government chooses to take action against patients or caregivers under the federal Controlled Substances Act," the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program warns on its website.

Nationally, there has been progress - glacially slow, but still progress - toward legitimizing medical use of marijuana. Fourteen states recognize it as a treatment for more than a dozen physical and psychological ailments. Over the past 10 years the American Medical Association has gone from opposing any medical use of marijuana to urging the federal government to reconsider its Schedule I status "with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods."

The current evidence indicates that marijuana probably isn't physically addictive, and it's much less dangerous than many legal drugs - including some over-the-counter ones. Logically it probably belongs in Schedule IV along with Valium, Ambien and Vicodin, or even in Schedule V along with codeine-containing cough medicines.

Unfortunately there's so much hysteria and paranoia left over from the "Reefer Madness" era of the 1930s that it might be decades before most Americans are ready to see the Demon Weed as a relatively harmless herb with potential beneficial qualities. But at least the pharmacy board has taken a significant step toward rationality, and that's worth a GLASS SLIPPER.


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