Some show support for legalization of medical marijuana


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A medical marijuana hearing Wednesday in Iowa City provided a platform for those in favor of legalizing the substance for medicinal purposes.

The overwhelming majority of testifiers supported the medical-marijuana cause, with few offering any opposing views.

Patients with chronic pain, doctors, a former drug prosecutor, and Iowa City residents partially made up the crowd and spoke before the Iowa Board of Pharmacy.

The bulk of those who testified noted the medical benefits marijuana would provide to suffering patients and contended it would be a good replacement for powerful prescription narcotics.

This was the third of four hearings held statewide regarding the reclassification of marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II substance. The final hearing will take place on Nov. 4 in Council Bluffs.

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Robert Manke, a Des Moines resident, stood before the board and described how several traffic accidents and a bout with cancer led him to rely on painkillers.

After a car accident left his back broken, Manke was prescribed powerful painkillers, including Fenotra — a potent painkiller that has occasionally resulted in deaths of patients who use it.

Manke said many prescribed narcotics have bad side effects, whereas marijuana has none.

“I’ve never had a drug hangover with marijuana,” he said.

Manke also noted he must buy his marijuana from drug dealers who sell cocaine, heroin, and other hard drugs instead of going through a legal state program.

Doctors also testified before the board, delivering evidence of marijuana’s beneficial medical uses.

Dale Todd, a doctor and board member of the National Epilepsy Foundation and former head of the Iowa Epilepsy Foundation, said marijuana helps slow the sporadic firing of neurons, leading to fewer seizures in those plagued with the disorder.

“We know people use it, and we know it helps,” said Todd, who was asked to speak on behalf of people who use marijuana for seizure control.

James Gierach, a former prosecuting attorney for drug crimes, represented Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

“The war on drugs doesn’t work,” said Gierach, whose organization deals heavily with the fight against drugs. “It puts more drugs, contaminated drugs everywhere. It is the heart of the drug problem.”

George McMahon, the fifth legal medical marijuana recipient in the United States, receives monthly prescriptions for medical marijuana because he is terminally ill.

“Well, I’m terminally ill, and I didn’t die; marijuana is the only drug I use,” he said. “When I stopped the other drugs, I stopped dying.”

McMahon said he thinks the hearings are pointless.

“I would like to see the hearings totally quit,” he said. “I would like to see the evidence that really does exist — that [the board] doesn’t admit exists — presented to the Legislature.”

Nick Manna, an Iowa City resident, said he is neither for or against legalized marijuana. But he doesn’t believe marijuana fits the criteria for a Schedule I drug.

“I would consider [the hearing] a win if the pharmacy provides good scientific reasoning for whatever decision they make,” he said.

DI reporter Parker Smith contributed to this report.

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