Medicinal pot fails in Iowa

BY SHAWN GUDE | MARCH 13, 2009 7:30 AM

Jeff Elton can’t control his stomach.

The 55-year old Des Moines resident has a nasty medical condition — gastroparesis, or stomach paralysis — that precludes the normal digestion of food.

The only thing that helps his chronic nausea and vomiting?

Marijuana: the safest and most effective anti-nausea drug available, he said.

“I was astounded by the fact that it delivered immediate relief from chronic nausea, with the only side effect being euphoria,” said Elton, who has been prescribed a variety of anti-nausea drugs that he said have ultimately amplified his nausea.

He first tried the drug for medicinal purposes when he was in California, the first state to legalize the substance for ailments.

Iowa is among the overwhelming majority of states that bar the possession or sale of marijuana, whether medical or recreational. Just 13 states have passed laws legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes — none of which border Iowa — according to the nonprofit site ProCon.Org.

Looking to help Iowans such as Elton, Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, drafted a bill that would lift the ban on marijuana for medical use.

“The bill is essentially an attempt to address the suffering that people are in,” he said, listing cancer and multiple sclerosis as painful diseases that marijuana could potentially ease. “People with severe medical conditions are not being helped by conventional medications. Studies have found that marijuana is an effective treatment.”

The bill failed to pass today’s funnel deadline, a procedural rule that requires bills to be reported out of their respective chambers’ committees to continue. The Senate isn’t in session today.

Critics claim legalizing medical marijuana is a slippery slope to full legalization, among other contentions.

Scientific research on the subject is still inconclusive, and contradictory studies abound.

Sen. Merlin Bartz, R-Grafton, said that although he supported the concept, Bolkcom’s bill was bereft of “correct checks and balances.” For his part, Bolkcom acknowledged the bill wasn’t perfect, but he promised to continue to raise the issue in subsequent years.

This bill wasn’t the only measure that failed to pass today’s funnel deadline. Here’s a look at the bills that met similar fates, as well as noteworthy measures that passed the procedural hurdle.

Halted bills:

• A Senate measure providing a sales-tax exemption on textbooks for college students never got out of committee, as did several bills in both chambers seeking to limit handheld cell-phone use by drivers.
• A House bill that would have required special elections for a vacant U.S. Senate seat never passed out of its subcommittee. “The response that I heard was: We are not Illinois. We do not need to change this law,” said Rep. Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa, who headed the measure’s subcommittee.
• There were scores of legislators looking to scrap or alter last year’s contentious Smoke-Free Air Act, but both Democratic and Republican-sponsored measures were stymied in subcommittee. “People in the health arenas are very nervous about opening up the legislation,” Rep. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, told the DI earlier this year, noting proponents “might not have the votes to keep the existing law in place.”

Bills that made it past the hurdle:

• A Senate bill that would strengthen protections for bicyclists passed the Senate last month and is currently in subcommittee in the House.
• Eligible for debate, a House measure criminalizing Salvia is on the floor.
• A Senate bill lowering the legal blood-alcohol concentration level for boaters from .10 to .08 is in a public-safety subcommittee in the House.
• A House Education Committee-sponsored bill would raise the compulsory age for high-school attendance from 16 to 17. It’s currently on the floor.

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