The state of Colorado has become the third in the nation to formally ask the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to reclassify marijuana in such a manner that would recognize its potential for medical value, similar to drugs like morphine and cocaine.

The letter, sent just before Christmas by Colorado's Department of Revenue, was required by a law passed in 2010 that set up a state regulatory framework for medical marijuana. The law required the state to petition the DEA for reclassification of the drug before Jan. 1, 2012.

Current federal prohibitions mean “[there] is a lack of certainty necessary to provide safe access for patients with serious medical conditions,” director Barbara Brohl wrote.

The state became the first in the nation earlier this year to begin licensing businesses that sell marijuana and products containing the drug, a move that potentially puts them at odds with federal officials.

The Obama administration's Department of Justice has made a practice of not prosecuting medical marijuana patients in states where the drug has been approved, but it still considers distributors to be fair game for arrest.

Colorado also allows people who've been given a doctor's recommendation for marijuana to grow their own plants inside their home.

The governors of Rhode Island and Washington have also petitioned the DEA to change marijuana's classification from Schedule I to Schedule II, more commonly reserved for addictive drugs that have clearly defined medical uses.

Marijuana is known to be helpful to cancer patients grappling with nausea from chemotherapy, AIDS patients with wasting syndrome and people with chronic pain.

Many pharmaceutical companies are also seeking patents on cannabis-based drugs that aim to solve dozens of different medical problems, including a drug that can kill cancerous tumors.

The Obama White House, as well, has admitted that "individual components of the cannabis plant" have at least "some" medical value, but the DEA remains steadfast in opposing any reclassification of the substance.