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State board recommends legalizing medical marijuana

BY JORDAN FRIES | FEBRUARY 18, 2010 7:30 AM

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Officials from the Iowa Board of Pharmacy voted unanimously to recommend that the state Legislature legalize the use of medical marijuana on Wednesday.

The proposal would reduce marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance to a Schedule II, classifying the drug as presenting the potential for abuse but also having acceptable medical uses.

If the suggestion passes through the Legislature, the Board of Pharmacy would become the nation’s first such organization to back medical marijuana use.

Lloyd Jessen, the director of Iowa’s Board of Pharmacy, said because a state agency made the recommendations, a legalization bill cannot be filed until next year at the earliest.

“We are limited in that regard, but there is nothing stopping state legislators from passing this eventually,” he said. “I know the board is very pleased in the outcome. This decision is the culmination of a pretty massive undertaking.”

Because of various other issues and a shortened legislative session expected to end in late March instead of April, Jessen said, he does not envision legislators having the time to approve the bill in 2010.

Wednesday’s recommendations would also give the Board of Pharmacy the power to choose an advisory committee to aid legislators in properly drafting a bill.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, told The Daily Iowan in October 2009 that he is in favor of legalization. Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, proposed a legalization bill that died on the committee floor during last year’s legislative session.

“I’ve heard from many Iowans who suffer in chronic pain from debilitating conditions,” Bolkcom told the DI on Oct. 7, 2009. “They find they would get some benefits and pain relief if they had access to medical marijuana.”

The deciding group, consisting of four Board of Pharmacy members and two public participants, made the recommendation after roughly six months of research and testimony.

The board, at the urging of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa Foundation, conducted four public forums from August to November 2009, including one on the UI campus.

More than 136 people testified at these forums about the personal benefits they received from medical marijuana use.

The board looked carefully at the testimonies, as well as results from the 14 states that have already legalized medical marijuana, before making a decision, Jessen said.

Jessen also pored over scientific data presented by ACLU officials at the final forum on Nov. 4, before he felt comfortable enough to begin deliberation.

“We looked at this as something beneficial to the state and to many Iowans,” Jessen said. “We had to make sure it was medically acceptable if used responsibly.”

Despite the wealth of support from state officials, some UI students are still unsure on the issue.

“I’m not opposed to it, but I can see where it would pose problems,” said UI senior Teddy Solberg.

“People might use it as an excuse to get their hands on it. But if there’s scientific evidence that medical marijuana can help people, then I would support it.”


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