Iowa's medical marijuana law too limited, unworkable

On the last day of this year’s legislative session, Iowa lawmakers took a baby step toward legalizing the medical use of marijuana in this state. I found it regrettable that the only compromise acceptable to Governor Terry Branstad and key Iowa House Republicans limited access to cannabis oil suitable for treating seizure disorders. Thousands of other Iowans suffer from debilitating chronic and/or life-threatening conditions, which could be alleviated with medical marijuana in other forms.

Turns out, the new law isn’t even helping the few hundred people who could theoretically benefit from cannabis oil. Although the law went into effect on July 1, parents who lobbied for it told the Des Moines Register’s Tony Leys this week that access to the medicine is “still light years away.”

[T]he law included no legal method for growing or selling the product. State administrators are still working out the details of how to issue ID cards allowing residents to possess marijuana extract bought in other states.

[Sally] Gaer and other parents believe their children’s seizures could be significantly dampened with a form of marijuana oil that has low levels of THC, the chemical that makes marijuana users high. But they remain unable to legally obtain the oil, which is said to have worked well in other states. […] Colorado law only allows sales of the medication to Colorado residents, they said. They’ve heard that once they have their Iowa-issued cards, they might be allowed to purchase the extract in Oregon. “What are we all going to do, get in a wagon train and go over the mountains?” Gaer said with a wry laugh.

The women said they were disappointed by how long it’s taking Iowa officials to implement the law, which technically took effect July 1. […]

The women said they have found Iowa-licensed neurologists willing to sign a form recommending the marijuana extract for their children, as the Iowa law requires. However, the form has not been created yet by state officials. If the families can find an out-of-state supplier willing to sell the oil to them, they would face a cost of several hundred to more than a thousand dollars per month – plus the cost of travel. They also could risk arrest for carrying the oil through states that don’t allow it.

Why are we putting families through this ordeal when more than a dozen states have already led the way toward making medical marijuana available to people who need it? After the jump I’ve posted a video of Dr. Steven Jenison talking about New Mexico’s medical cannabis program, which he helped to implement in 2007.

State Senator Joe Bolkcom has promised he will work to expand the new law during the 2015 legislative session. Here’s hoping the Iowa House and Senate will listen.

Dr. Steven Jenison speaking about medical cannabis at the Des Moines Public Library, December 2, 2013:

Background provided by State Senator Joe Bolkcom:

Steven Jenison, M.D., probably knows more about medical marijuana than any other Iowa native. He spoke at a discussion of how Iowa could responsibly legalize the medical use of cannabis held at the Des Moines Public Library on December 2, 2013.

The Iowa-trained public health physician served as the first Medical Director and first Medical Advisory Board Chair to the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program. Dr. Jenison earlier represented the New Mexico Department of Health during the legislative hearings that resulted in the creation of the State of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program in 2007. Twenty U.S. states have legalized marijuana for medical use.

From now until early December, Dr. Jenison is studying emergency medical care at the University of Iowa’s College of Medicine. To encourage his home state to adopt a science-based, compassionate approach to medical cannabis, he is available for news interviews and is appearing at public meetings throughout the state.

“Of course I’d like my home state of Iowa to join the 20 other states where marijuana is available for medical use,” said Jenison. “Refusing effective medication to people who are suffering is offensive to me as a doctor. I believe Iowa is a place where, like New Mexico, science and compassion are more important than partisan politics.”

The New Mexico law made the use and possession of marijuana legal for patients “in a regulated system for alleviating symptoms caused by debilitating medical conditions and their medical treatments.”

The New Mexico approach has been widely praised as effective and focused on helping patients. In 2010, after extensive review, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy voted unanimously to recommend that the Iowa Legislature legalize the use of medical marijuana. During those discussions, members of the board specifically suggested that Iowa adopt the State of New Mexico’s approach. The Iowa Legislature has not yet addressed the issue. In 2010, the Iowa Poll found that 64% of Iowans favored medical marijuana while 33% were opposed.

Dr. Jenison was born in Ames, graduated from Iowa State University, and earned a medical degree from the University of Iowa. In 1999, he received the UI College of Medicine’s Distinguished Alumnus Award for Service in recognition of his work in developing a rapid diagnostic test during the Four Corners hantavirus outbreak of 1993.

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