The governors of Rhode Island and Washington state have filed a petition with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration asking to reclassify marijuana as a drug with medical uses.
Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington and Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island have asked the government to change the status of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act.
Schedule II drugs, such as opium and morphine, are described by the U.S. government as having potential for abuse and addiction, but also "some accepted medical use and may be prescribed, administered or dispensed for medical use."
Rhode Island and Washington are among the 16 states, as well as the District of Columbia, that allow medical marijuana to be sold in some fashion, even though the drug is still illegal under federal law. 10 more states are currently considering doing the same.
This change in classification could allow pharmacies to sell marijuana, in addition to existing marijuana dispensaries that operate in a legal grey area.
"Poll after poll shows an overwhelming majority of Americans now see medical marijuana as legitimate," said Gregoire of Washington in a statement.
"Sixty per cent 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.
"There is simply no question that pharmacists could safely and reliably dispense cannabis to patients."
"People die from overdose of opiates," she said. "Has anybody died from marijuana?"
Tom Angell is the media relations director for group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities who campaign to end drug prohibition.
"To have two sitting governors pushing for marijuana to be rescheduled on the federal level certainly elevates the national debate about this issue," said Angell.
"Still, this petition to a hostile federal government isn't going to help patients in Rhode Island get safe access to medicine today like actually implementing the state's compassion center law would. Gov. Chafee needs to stop passing the buck and simply allow the compassion centers that state law authorizes to open their doors and begin serving patients."
Washington voters passed a medical marijuana law which gave doctors the right to recommend - but not prescribe - marijuana for people suffering with cancer or other conditions that cause "intractable pain."
Earlier this month, the DEA raided several state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries across Washington state, specifically targeting stores deemed to be engaged in illegal drug trafficking and money laundering.
The DEA have previously denied a petition to reclassify marijuana based on research conducted several years earlier. But Gov. Gregoire and Gov. Chafee insist the attitude of the medical community has changed since the government last reviewed the issue.