I’ve been meaning to put up a thread on efforts to legalize cannabis for medical use in Iowa. State Senator Joe Bolkcom has been the lead sponsor of a bill that would create “a state regulated system to provide medical cannabis to Iowans under a doctor’s care.” Senate File 2215 (full text) did not meet the Iowa legislature’s first “funnel” deadline because of a lack of support from statehouse Republicans. However, more recently GOP lawmakers including Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, a nurse practitioner, have said they are open to discussions on the issue. Iowa House Republican Clel Baudler, who helped kill a similar bill last year, is dead-set against what he calls an “asinine” idea.
The Iowa Medical Marijuana website includes much more background on efforts to legalize the medical use of cannabis. The front page of that site includes links to recent news coverage and videos from an Iowa Senate hearing on March 5. CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta changed his mind on the medical uses of marijuana while working on a documentary last year.
After the jump I’ve enclosed a statement from Bolkcom explaining the key points of SF 2215, highlights from the Des Moines Register’s latest polling on the issue, and comments from Governor Terry Branstad, West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer, and Representative Bruce Braley, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.
Any relevant thoughts or predictions are welcome in this thread. I expect advocates will have to work for at least a few more years before Iowa joins the 20 states and Washington, DC where medical marijuana is already legal.
February 18 press release from State Senator Joe Bolkcom:
Suffering Iowans and their families
must wait at least another year for help
Medical cannabis fails again in Iowa Legislature
News conference video: http://youtu.be/kVGmlX76CQw
(Des Moines) Supporters of a state regulated system to provide medical cannabis to Iowans under a doctor’s care today both filed legislation and declared the issue dead for the session.
“Medical cannabis will not happen in Iowa without bipartisan support,” said Senator Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City. “The simple truth is that no Republican lawmaker was willing to sign onto legislation that would give Iowans access to medicines used in 20 other states.”
Senate File 2215 is closely modeled after New Mexico’s law which made the use and possession of cannabis legal for patients “in a regulated system for alleviating symptoms caused by debilitating medical conditions and their medical treatments.” In 2010, the Iowa Pharmacy Board recommended that Iowa follow New Mexico’s approach and allow patients access to cannabis for certain medical conditions.”
“The public wants to move forward on this issue,” said Senator Matt McCoy of Des Moines. “Unfounded fears on the part of Iowa state lawmakers are the reason why, to name one example, Iowa parents of epileptic children are denied access to medicine which substantially reduces their children’s seizures.”
The legislation would allow safe and legal access to cannabis for medical use. Patients who are under a doctor’s care and have certain debilitating conditions which include epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS/HIV, or spinal cord damage with intractable spasticity. The program would be administered by the Iowa Department of Public Health and be overseen by a medical doctor. The state of Iowa would license non-profit dispensaries and production facilities, who would pay licensing fees which would cover the cost of the program.
“We are elected to lead and put people first, even if it is an election year,” said Senator Tom Courtney of Burlington. “We have examples of responsible, effective programs in other states, and yet the best Iowa can do is threaten to put people in jail for taking care of their families.”
Late last year, Bolkcom organized several public meetings in Iowa with Dr. Steven Jenison, the Iowa born and educated doctor who created the State of New Mexico’s respected medical marijuana program. At those meetings, Bolkcom met with a variety of Iowa families who support his effort to establish a a science-based, compassionate approach to medical cannabis in Iowa.
“Already, Iowans are moving out of state so they can get the medicines they need for themselves and their families,” said Senator Bolkcom. “That’s sad to see but very understandable. We could not get a single Republican co-sponsor, even when we offered to make the legislation much more limited. We simply won’t make progress until we put the focus on the people, not on the politics. And that hasn’t happened yet.”
The Des Moines Register’s latest statewide poll found strong support for medical marijuana.
A significant majority – 59 percent – of Iowa adults support making the drug legal for medical purposes, while 37 percent oppose the idea, the new poll shows. Those are about the same as findings from an Iowa Poll taken a year ago in February.
However, 69 percent of Iowans oppose legalizing marijuana for recreational use, and just 28 percent support the idea, the new poll shows. The numbers on that question were also nearly the same as a year ago. […]
Just 47 percent of Iowans 65 or older support legalizing medical marijuana, compared with 67 percent of those younger than 35. The split is even more dramatic on the question of legalizing recreational marijuana. Only 13 percent of Iowa seniors support that idea, but 39 percent of young adults do.
Legalizing medical marijuana draws support from 74 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of political independents, but just 46 percent of Republicans. Legalizing recreational marijuana is backed by 34 percent of Democrats, 33 percent of independents and 16 percent of Republicans.
The poll, conducted Feb. 23-26 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Bolkcom organized the March 5 Senate hearing where doctors and Iowans with chronic illness testified in support of legalizing the use of cannabis. West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer and his wife Sally Gaer appeared at the hearing. Their daughter suffers from a rare form of epilepsy. Gaer, a Republican, has done media appearances this year to raise awareness of the issue.
At his March 10 press conference, Governor Terry Branstad made clear that he’s still a “no.”
Governor Terry Branstad is warning there are too many “unintended consequences” to legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes in Iowa. Branstad met recently with the mothers of children who suffer from a severe form of epilepsy – mothers who say an oil derived from marijuana is a treatment that’s working for epileptics in other states.
“I think we have to be careful about drafting our laws just for a few people that have a particular problem or ailment,” Branstad said this morning during his weekly news conference. […]
“Already the biggest increase in drug abuse has been where you have unauthorized people using other people’s prescriptions,” Branstad said, “so the abuse of prescription drugs is a big problem in this state and I don’t want to do something that’s going to exacerbate that.” […]
“I just think there’s a lot more study that needs to go on before we embark on this kind of an experiment,” Branstad told reporters near the end of his news conference.
I suspect Branstad would feel differently if a loved one or close friend suffered from a chronic condition treatable with cannabis.
The governor’s remarks provoked an angry response from the Gaers. The Des Moines Register published their letters to the editor on March 12. Excerpts:
The governor’s comment Monday suggesting that the “few people who have a particular problem or ailment” who would benefit from medical marijuana should just move out of Iowa to get the medical help they need is the most insensitive comment he could make to families trying to raise a medically fragile/special-needs family member. […]
Instead of leading the effort to implement a safe, legal and effective medical marijuana program (like 20 other states have already done and many more are in the process of doing this year), the governor appears to prefer that medically fragile/special-needs Iowa families quit their jobs and move from their homes, communities, families, friends, churches, respite care givers and medical providers in order to get the medicine they need in another state. […]
The overwhelming majority of Iowans want the Legislature to implement a safe, legal and effective medical marijuana program, and legislators on both sides of the aisle are working diligently to develop such a program. The governor’s Healthiest State Initiative should include the health of the medically fragile/special-needs Iowans and not “run them off” to other states.
– Steven K. Gaer, mayor, West Des Moines
From the governor’s remarks on Monday, it appears he cares more about the unborn than the living.
I thought he was pro-life.
He says no medical marijuana for “a small subset of Iowa’s population.” In other words, he prefers that my daughter dies from SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death from Epilepsy).
– Sally Gaer, West Des Moines
I don’t recall hearing Representative Bruce Braley speak about cannabis before, but today he said he supports legalizing its medical use.
“My position has always been that it should be driven by the needs of patients and the determination of whether it’s safe and effective for them to use to reduce their pain,” Braley says. “I think this is going to be a continuing conversation that Iowans are going to have, and I think it’s an important one.”
Colorado has legalized recreational use of marijuana along with medicinal use. Braley says the recreational use of marijuana would have to be something state lawmakers decide after hearing from Iowans. “For me, the much more important issue is whether people who have chronic pain, and serious debilitating diseases are in need of access to something in the form of medical marijuana when other pain medications are not effective for them,” according to Braley. “And there’s been a lot of news coverage about families – including children – who are using this in the medicinal form, because it is the only thing that they can tolerate to address their severe chronic pain.”