Monday, August 3, 2009

Medical Marijuana in Iowa

Medical marijuana advocates optimistic of legalization

By Charlotte Eby
Journal Des Moines Bureau | Posted: Sunday, August 02, 2009

DES MOINES -- Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, 53-year-old Barbara
Douglass can no longer walk and uses a scooter.

But she has found one way to cope with a condition she calls "ungodly
and terrible" and to steady her shaking hands -- smoking marijuana.

"It doesn't make it better, but it makes it easier," said Douglass, who
also is legally blind.

Douglass, of Lakeside, is one of two Iowans who are part of federal
program that allows them to smoke marijuana legally for their medical
conditions. Each month, Douglass gets a can of pre-rolled marijuana
cigarettes from her doctor. She finds she is more active after smoking

Douglass has a message for Iowa policymakers who are about to start
analyzing the issue: marijuana is medicine.

Advocates of legalizing the medical use of marijuana are optimistic that
a series of public hearings on the issue could open the door to Iowa
becoming the 14th state to effectively allow it.

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy is holding four hearings beginning this month
on the pros and cons of the medical use of marijuana and could decide to
make a recommendation to state lawmakers based on their findings.

Carl Olsen of Iowans for Medical Marijuana said he has been working
since about 1990 to get the state of Iowa to recognize the potential
medical benefits of the drug.

Olsen unsuccessfully petitioned the pharmacy board to recognize that
marijuana has accepted medical uses and remove it from Schedule I, the
most restrictive class of drugs. He is planning to appeal the decision
and is organizing supporters of a medical marijuana law to turn out at
the board's hearings, which begin Aug. 19 in Des Moines.

"I want to nail this thing now while I've got the momentum on my side,"
Olsen said.

The pharmacy board will accept comments from the public at the hearings
but is especially looking for scientific evidence on the use of
marijuana for medical purposes.

Ultimately, the decision will be in the hands of Iowa lawmakers.

Any change in Iowa's classification of marijuana would have to be made
by the Legislature, said Scott Galenbeck, an assistant Iowa attorney
general who handles legal matters for the pharmacy board.

Legislature will be key

An attempt to make marijuana legal for medical use could face an uphill
battle in the Iowa Legislature. A bill that would have allowed the use
of medical marijuana stalled in the Iowa Senate last session.

Sen. Merlin Bartz, a Republican from Grafton, said under that bill
considered last session "even a veterinarian could have prescribed
medical marijuana."

Bartz had reservations about that particular piece of legislation, but
is open to allowing marijuana for medical purposes if it is prescribed
by a doctor and has scientifically proven benefits. He believes
lawmakers should take a look at the pharmacy board's findings even if
for some legislators it is a "political hot potato."

"I've always said that good public policy is good politics, but this
frankly may be one of those where people don't want to let the facts
confuse them," Bartz said.

Despite supporting medical marijuana, Bartz said some of its advocates
appear to be "a little disingenuous" and simply want to legalize
marijuana, an idea Bartz opposes.

One lawmaker staunchly against allowing medical marijuana use is Rep.
Clel Baudler, a Republican and retired state trooper from Greenfield.

"I would fight that totally," Baudler said.

Baudler fears allowing the medical use of marijuana would mean a step
toward legalizing marijuana in Iowa, pointing to legalization efforts in

"It's just another step in ruining our society as we know it, and
ruining our nation. I will never, ever support this," Baudler said.

State laws at odds with federal

Even if Iowa were to change its law allowing for the medical use of
marijuana, it is still illegal under federal law.

Dan Bernath, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the 13
states that have medical marijuana laws have protected most patients
from the threat of arrest.

He said federal policy has changed to be even more tolerant of states'
medical marijuana laws.

"The truth is most that most states have written their laws so even the
federal government at its most hostile hasn't had any reason to want to
go in and interfere with those medical marijuana laws," Bernath said.

States that effectively allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes:
California, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Maine, Nevada, Colorado, Hawaii,
Vermont, Montana, Rhode Island, New Mexico and Michigan.

What Iowa's doing: The Iowa Pharmacy Board has scheduled four public
hearings in the coming months to gather scientific data and comments
about medical marijuana.

Information board is seeking: Current scientific knowledge of marijuana,
marijuana's abuse or potential for abuse, pharmacological effect, risk
to the public health from moving marijuana to a different controlled
substance schedule and other factors.

Upcoming hearings:

Aug. 19, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Iowa State Historical Building, Des

Sept. 2, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Music Man Square Reunion Hall, Mason

Oct. 7, noon to 7 p.m. at the Bowen Science Building, Iowa City;

Nov. 4, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Harrah's Council Bluffs, Ballroom 1, Council

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