Iowa House panel dispenses with medical marijuana bill

Public health issue not law enforcement issue, critics say

Rod Boshart
Published: January 31 2013 | 2:30 pm - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 10:48 am in
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Any hope for a medical marijuana debate in the Iowa House went up in smoke Thursday.

“This bill will not advance any further,” declared Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, a retired Iowa State Patrol trooper and one of two GOP members of a House subcommittee that refused to pass House File 22 onto the full House Public Safety Committee for consideration this legislative session.

Baudler’s declaration dashed the hopes of supporters who testified that medical marijuana helps relieve pain, nausea and other painful symptoms for people suffering from debilitating maladies such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis. Critics countered that there are prescription drugs currently available which provide similar benefits, and legalizing medical marijuana would provide easier access of cannabis for recreational use -- especially among young Iowans who already have a high treatment incidence for the addictive drug.

Steve Lukan, director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, said successful efforts have been waged to keep young people drug free but he warned they would be “getting mixed messages” if the Iowa Legislature allowed the establishment of non-profit medical marijuana nonprofit dispensaries for patients to obtain the medication as prescribed in H.F. 22.

“Slow down and think about this,” Lukan – a former Iowa House member-- told the three-member subcommittee. “There are a lot of unintended consequences that would move Iowa in the wrong direction.”

The legislation proposed by Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, sought to establish a medical marijuana act that would allow the possession and use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes. Under the measure, qualifying patients with diagnosed, debilitating medical conditions who were issued registry identification cards would not be subject to arrest, criminal prosecution, civil penalty, or denied any right or privilege related to their medical use of marijuana.

The legislation proposed by Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, sought to establish a medical marijuana act that would allow the possession and use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes. Under the measure, qualifying patients with diagnosed, debilitating medical conditions who were issued registry identification cards would not be subject to arrest, criminal prosecution, civil penalty, or denied any right or privilege related to their medical use of marijuana.

“These aren’t just some stoners looking for their next high,” Hunter told the legislative panel members. “They are real people looking for real relief for real pain.”

In 2010, after holding hearings around the state to get public feedback, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy recommended that state legislators reclassify marijuana and set up a system to allow the drug to be used medically. On Thursday, Lukan successfully asked a separate House subcommittee to approve a measure (House Study Bill 52) that would remove any ambiguity by clearly establishing that the Legislature is the controlling authority on the medical marijuana issue and the classification of controlled substances.

Rep. Rick Olson, D-Des Moines, said he believed it would be better for medical experts to make such determinations rather than lawyers, farmers, retired teachers and others who make up the General Assembly.

During Thursday’s wide-ranging discussions, Chancy Yeast of Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines and Erin Kennedy, a substance abuse prevention specialist from Nevada, warned legislators not to move ahead with easier access to the illicit substance most commonly abused by adolescents that also could carry employment implications if bus drivers, teachers or others who might be working under the influence as qualified patients under the medical marijuana act.

Critics, like Stephanie Fawkes-Lee said the issue should be addressed as a public health issue rather than a law enforcement issue, Mike Niday, a Marine Corps veteran suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder said representatives should be listening to Iowa voices not conducting a “witch hunt” and MS sufferer Ray Lakers said he would have to move to Colorado if Iowa did not join 18 other states and the District of Columbia authorize where the use of medical marijuana is allowed.

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