Iowa should legalize and lead with medical marijuana


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The Iowa Board of Pharmacy’s recommendation on Wednesday to simultaneously reclassify marijuana and create a body to oversee the possible legalization of the plant for medical use is commendable and realistic. Iowa legislators — and other states — should take note.

The board voted unanimously to recommend shifting marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance to Schedule II — a switch that would recognize the potential medical benefits and open the door for possible legalization. While the legislation needed to change the plant’s categorization likely won’t come until next year at the earliest, the decision is still a major victory for Iowans who tout the medical benefits of the drug.

Iowa’s board is the first body of its type to take active steps toward medical marijuana legalization. Of the 14 states that allow medicinal use of the drug, the measure has arisen from other means, such as the public referendum in California. While these methods of legalization are perfectly valid, having a state body such as the Board of Pharmacy initiate proceedings breeds an unprecedented level of control for any change in regulation.

“Because medical marijuana is illegal, people doing research on its effects can’t do the research,” said Margaret Whitworth, one of two public members of the board. She explained that many of the studies that provide evidence for the drug’s benefits lose much of their credibility, mainly because the size and scope of such research is limited by the criminality of the drug.

That’s not to say that there isn’t evidence that points to marijuana’s health benefits. Marijuana has been shown to ease many conditions, including vomiting, chronic pain, and nausea. And it’s safer than scores of drugs on the market; it’s nearly impossible to overdose on pot.

“There is increasing information that [marijuana] does provide medical benefits,” Whitworth said in an interview Thursday.

The board’s actions represent a new wave in responsible and intelligent debate on the big-picture effects of legalizing medical marijuana. There are still questions concerning the extent of the benefits and how best to control the dissemination of the drug. This is why the board has also proposed the creation of a large body of stakeholders who can oversee the possible transition.

If legislators decide to legalize the substance for medicinal uses, Iowa should avoid a relatively laissez-faire approach, as California has done. The creation of this body is a positive step toward the measured, transitional legalization that is needed.

Whitworth said California’s approach left things wide open.

“It’s basically not medical marijuana, just plain marijuana,” she said.

Amid the mounting evidence in favor of marijuana’s medicinal value for ailments ranging from HIV to glaucoma, these pre-emptive actions to further research and better control the substance put Iowa at the forefront of medical marijuana reform.

We applaud the board for its actions and look to our legislators to back its recommendations. Iowa should serve as a leader in providing information on marijuana and its medicinal benefits.

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