Pharmacy Board unanimously recommends legalizing medical marijuana

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy voted 6-0 today to recommend that Iowa legislators reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I narcotic to a Schedule II narcotic. Schedule II drugs have a “currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

In April 2009, a Polk County judge instructed the Iowa Board of Pharmacy to examine evidence on possible medical uses for marijuana. Last summer the board declined to reclassify marijuana in Iowa but ordered public hearings on the subject.

The Iowa legislature’s “funnel” deadline passed last Friday with no action on a bill to legalize medical marijuana, meaning the issue is dead for the 2010 session. Leadership can bring up new bills after the funnel deadline, but I would be surprised if House and Senate leaders used that prerogative to move a medical marijuana bill forward during a shortened legislative session.

That said, lawmakers should not fear a political backlash if they do approve a bill legalizing marijuana for medical use in Iowa. In the latest Selzer and Co. statewide poll for the Des Moines Register, 64 percent of respondents supported “allowing medical marijuana,” while only 33 percent opposed the idea. I was surprised by how little opinions on this issue varied by the respondents’ age. Medical marijuana was supported by 67 percent of respondents 18-34, 67 percent of those aged 35-54, and 60 percent of those over 55. Younger Iowans were twice as likely as those over 55 to support legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

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Iowa Board of Pharmacy will again consider medical marijuana

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy will again consider “whether marijuana is improperly classified as a schedule I controlled substance in Iowa,” according to a press release from Iowans for Medical Marijuana. The public hearing will be held on Tuesday, July 21, from 9:50 am to 10:20 am in the shared conference room located at RiverPoint Business Park, 400 S.W. Eighth Street, Suite E in Des Moines. Public comments will be limited to five minutes per speaker.

This will be the Iowa Board of Pharmacy’s third public hearing on the matter. At the previous hearing in June, the board declined to consider whether marijuana has “accepted medical use” in the U.S. Currently, Iowa law states that marijuana has no accepted medical use in this country, even though more than a dozen states now permit doctors to prescribe it under certain circumstances.

The press release from Iowans for Medical Marijuana contains more background information, so I’ve posted the full text after the jump. I’ll follow up on this story after Tuesday’s meeting of the Iowa Board of Pharmacy.

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Pharmacy board declines to reclassify marijuana in Iowa

I missed this story earlier in the week, but caught it at the Huffington Post on Friday:

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy sidestepped a court ruling this week, which had ordered it to consider whether the state should reclassify marijuana as having medical value. […]

The effort to reclassify marijuana in Iowa is led by the American Civil Liberties Union and local medical marijuana users. […]

The pharmacy board was fully informed by assistant attorney general and counsel to the board Scott Galenbeck of its job. “Judge Novak’s ruling states,” Galenbeck read to the board, “‘The board must determine whether the evidence presented by petitioner is sufficient to support a finding that marijuana has accepted medical use in the United States and does not lack accepted safety for use in treatment under medical supervision.’ A couple sentences before that the judge stated if the board believes that evidence presented by petitioner was insufficient to support such a finding it should have stated such in its order.”

The board had previously rejected the ACLU effort. The civil liberties group appealed to the district court, setting up this week’s rematch.

Yet the Iowa board, instead of asking whether it has “accepted medical use in the United States,” asked whether Iowa should approve of it, which is not a question for the board but for the Iowa legislature.

A bill to legalize the medical use of marijuana was introduced in the Iowa Senate this year. More details about that are after the jump.

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Grassley news roundup

I haven’t written anything yet about Senator Chuck Grassley’s comments on the AIG bonuses. The whole episode was such an empty populist gesture. First he said the AIG no-goodniks should act like the Japanese and either offer a humble apology or kill themselves. Then he walked back his comments and said they should offer a sincere apology. That’s all? I’d like to see more strings attached to the Wall Street bailout program, which Grassley voted for.

The Twitterer for the Daily Iowan Opinion page had the best response to Grassley I’ve seen so far. After the senator explained that “I do want an attitude in corporate American that’s similar to what they have in corporate Japan,” DIOpinions commented, “Making failed American executives more like their Japanese counterparts would require massive pay cuts.” Don’t hold your breath until Grassley gets behind that.

Anyway, we’ll find out how much Grassley cares about getting taxpayers’ money back from AIG when the Senate votes on the bill the House of Representatives passed yesterday.

Follow me after the jump to read about Grassley’s recent comments on medical marijuana and health care reform.

Also, I can confirm that at least one Democrat is stepping forward to challenge Iowa’s senior senator in 2010. Details are below.

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Boswell touts his record on fighting meth

Congressman Leonard Boswell’s campaign put out a press release on Saturday seeking to contrast the incumbent’s record with Ed Fallon’s record on fighting methamphetamine use in Iowa:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE          

May 31, 2008

CONTACT:

Betsy Shelton, 515-238-3356

Boswell Committed to Fighting Iowa’s Meth Crisis

Des Moines, IA – Today Polk County Attorney John Sarcone and Dave Murillo, President of the Des Moines Police Burial and Protective Association, praised Congressman Leonard Boswell for his important work and leadership in fighting Iowa’s methamphetamine crisis.

Boswell thanked Sarcone and Murillo for their support.  “John Sarcone and Dave Murillo are out there fighting the meth epidemic every day.  I will continue to do all I can to help secure funding to provide law enforcement with the proper tools and training to end the manufacture and use of methamphetamine.”

“Congressman Boswell has been a staunch ally and supporter of law enforcement during his tenure in Washington,” said Murillo.  :He is a rarity in politics today as he is man of his word.  Leonard has taken a strong stand against the illegal narcotics trade, and the manufacture, sale and use of illegal drugs.  Leonard has always been a huge supporter of law enforcement and public safety.”

“Congressman Boswell was ahead of the curve on fighting the meth epidemic when he co-founded the Congressional Caucus to Fight and Control Methamphetamine,” stated Polk County Attorney John Sarcone.  “He secured funding for the Drug Endangered Children program which has dramatically helped law enforcement get special services to children whose parents used and manufactured meth in home.”  Sarcone added, “Ed Fallon has never championed any cause for law enforcement. Leonard has always been there for us and his fight against the meth epidemic is a perfect example of his support of law enforcement.”

During his legislative tenure, Fallon opposed appropriations to fight the growing meth epidemic and to establish mandatory jail sentences for persons found in possession of methamphetamine.  Fallon also voted against increased funding for law enforcement in the fight against meth.  He was one of only six House members to vote against a $3.3 million plan to fight Iowa’s meth epidemic with a combination of treatment, education, and tougher enforcement measures.  At the time, Fallon told the Cedar Rapids Gazette, “This bill is the easy way out.”  Fallon was the only House member to oppose an increase in penalties for people manufacturing meth in the presence of a minor.

Congressman Boswell served as co-chair of the Congressional Caucus to Fight and Control Methamphetamine, and has championed legislation that has successfully clamped down on the meth labs that threaten Iowa’s communities.  Boswell has long been a leader in the fight against methamphetamine use.

I was not living in Iowa in 1999, when the legislature approved the $3.3 million bill on methamphetamine. I was unable to find the article quoting Fallon on the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s website. However, when I contacted Fallon’s campaign for a comment on this press release, they forwarded the entire article to me.

Here is a larger excerpt from the Cedar Rapids Gazette article from March 16, 1999:

Detractors of the bill said it will add burden to already overcrowded county jails and courthouses and mask the inadequate response to treatment with get-tough enforcement measures that are easier to tout politically.

“In my very strong opinion, this bill is not going to do it,” said Rep. Ed Fallon, D-Des Moines, one of six representatives to oppose the measure. “This bill is the easy way out. If this legislation is going to be taken seriously, we’re going to have to appropriate quite a bit of money.”

So while the Boswell press release gives the impression that Fallon was not interested in fighting meth use in Iowa, the context makes clear that Fallon opposed the bill because it did not do enough to address the problem.

Did the 1999 legislation solve the meth use problem in Iowa? Apparently not, because a state government report issued in October 2004 determined that “Methamphetamine has become an increasing problem in Iowa over the last 10 years.”

Since that 1999 bill was enacted, the Iowa legislature has addressed methamphetamine several more times. The most significant effort seems to be Senate File 169, which passed the legislature unanimously in 2005. Instead of increasing the penalties for manufacturing meth, that law sought to restrict access to a component used in manufacturing meth. State Drug Policy Coordinator Marvin L. Van Haaften reported to the legislature the following year,

Senate File 169-unanimously approved last year by the Legislature, signed into law by Governor Vilsack, and implemented May 21, 2005-classified the key ingredient used to make methamphetamine (meth) as a Schedule V Controlled Substance. Commonly referred to as Iowa’s pseudoephedrine (PSE) control or meth lab reduction law, this statute removed all cold and allergy products containing PSE from store shelves and placed the vast majority of them behind the pharmacy counter to be dispensed on a controlled non-prescription basis.

Between June and December 2005, Iowa meth lab incidents plummeted nearly 80 percent compared to the same period in 2004, as shown in the month-by-month comparisons from the Iowa Department of Public Safety, Division of Narcotics Enforcement below.

[…]

The imprint of Senate File 169 on public safety may be summed up best by one of the State’s top prosecutors. United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa-Charles Larson-has stated publicly that in his many years of public service in the criminal justice arena he’s “never seen one law have a larger impact on reducing crime.”

It’s certainly worthwhile to reduce the number of meth labs operating in Iowa. But did the 2005 law reduce meth use or meth addiction in this state?

Not according to the state drug policy coordinator’s 2006 report:

Verbatim drug treatment survey comments:

• “Our meth clients have large numbers of special needs that overwhelm our case managers…Treatment is taking longer because of reduced cognitive ability, which needs to be addressed in order to obtain participation in the treatment process.”

• “The number of female clients reporting meth usage has increased.”

• “Our available data indicate no substantial change in the areas outlined in this survey since the pseudoephedrine control law has been in effect.”

• “I have actually had clients tell me that the law has impacted the ability to make meth in northeast Iowa, and therefore the availability.”

• “The State must understand that while the new law regulating the purchase of pseudoephedrine has worked to reduce the number of meth labs in the State, the incidence and prevalence of meth abuse continues to rise. This is not a failure of the law, but the realities of the epidemic.”

All signs point toward a continued strong demand for meth in Iowa. At best, meth use appears to be holding steady at a relatively high level. At worst, more Iowans are getting hooked on this super-addictive stimulant.

Sounds like Fallon was right in 1999, when he called for allocating more resources to treating methamphetamine addicts.

Here is a link to a pdf file containing Marvin L. Van Haaften’s report from January 2006.

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News flash: Drug dealing is illegal

I shook my head when I read this story in Tuesday’s Register about the fraternity that shut down its U of I chapter because several members were arrested for dealing marijuana:

Four Delta Upsilon members were charged in December with drug violations after police raided the fraternity house and found 650 grams of marijuana, cash, packing materials, scales and drug-deal ledgers, court records state.

Hey, college students: you may think pot should be legal, and I may think pot should be legal, but pot is not legal, and selling pot is definitely not legal. Keeping detailed ledgers of your transactions is not a good idea.

These students who were arrested should know that it could have been worse, however. The year after I graduated from college, two guys who lived in my dorm were arrested for selling drugs to a fellow student who had named them when he got caught with possession. They also had detailed business ledgers on their computers, which the police confiscated.

What they didn’t realize, and probably no one in my dorm realized, was that an elementary school was up the street a few blocks. Most people living in the dorm would never have a reason to walk in that direction, because the rest of campus was the other way. But the state where I went to college had one of those laws doubling prison terms for drug offenses committed within X feet of a school.

The guys were not selling to grade school kids. They were just making some extra cash selling to other college students. But they went away for a long, long time.

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