Iowa pharmacy board says it lacks authority to legalize medical marijuana

Board chairman says Iowa legislators need to make the decision

April 1, 2014 | 9:31 am

DES MOINES — The Iowa Board of Pharmacy said although its members sympathize with Iowans seeking to legalize medical marijuana to aid those struggling with various ailments, they unanimously denied a petition seeking to change a rule regarding the practice in Iowa.

Board Chairman Edward Maier told the packed hearing room Wednesday morning the board doesn’t have the authority to establish a state medical marijuana program. He said establishing such a program  would involve a number of other state departments outside the board’s jurisdiction and oversight on factors such as regulations of marijuana growers and product quality.

“We do not have the authority as a board to regulate anyone other than pharmacists and pharmacies,” said board member Susan Frey.

Marie La France of Des Moines filed the petition in January so that her son, Quincy, could acquire an oil form of medical cannabis to treat his epilepsy. The oil form of the plant has been known to help reduce seizures and chronic pain among patients in states with medical marijuana programs.

Twenty states and Washington, D.C., have established medical marijuana programs.

Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance with no medical value.

"If you don't make rules, I will be forced to choose between moving from my home or risking criminalization just to improve my son’s quality of life,” La France said.

Maier said Iowa legislators need to make the decision.  The board voted to recommend legislation to the Iowa Legislature on medical marijuana in 2010, but medical marijuana legislation repeatedly has failed over the years.

Gov. Terry Branstad recently said he’s leery of such a program in Iowa.

More than 10 people spoke out in support of the rule change, sharing their personal stories of how their own lives, or the lives of their family members, could be improved with a legalized program.

Throughout the hour-long hearing, several proponents mentioned a section of Iowa Code that gave the pharmacy board the ability to introduce a medical marijuana program. Board members and their legal representation said the section, passed in 1979, referred to initiating research opportunities, which were not used and eventually phased out.

La France said in an interview following the board’s decision that she’s in “complete disbelief.” The mother said she now faces the decision of moving or “experimenting” with other methods that might help her child.

“I can’t understand how they can listen to all the testimonies of how cannabis can help Iowans and not take any action,” she said.

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