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Iowa legislators want to spark discussion about legalizing medicinal marijuana

BY BAJ VISSER | JANUARY 31, 2012 7:20 AM

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Even those who support marijuana legalization admit this probably won't be their year in Iowa.

At least one Iowa Senate Republican is calling on lawmakers to consider legislation to legalize pot for medical use, the measure will likely stall in the Legislature again this year.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, who has supported legalizing medical marijuana for years, said conversation will keep the issue relevant, but any serious action will take some time.

"We still have a long way to go before we see a medical marijuana bill voted on and passed into law," he said.

Sen. Gene Fraise, D-Fort Madison, plans to introduce a bill this year which would legalize pot for medical use. Though the 79-year-old admits the bill is unlikely to have enough votes to pass, he said the its main purpose is simply to get Iowans talking about the issue.

"The harshest pain-killing pills have opium in them, which would be an illegal drug if it weren't in medication," he said. "So this is not a crazy new idea. We've done it before."

Fraise said a number of his constituents who suffer from cancer and multiple sclerosis have asked him to help Iowa's Pharmacy Board legalize access to medical marijuana. The board supported reclassifying the substance to a Schedule II drug in 2010, which would recognize the substance as having medical benefits.

"Since I drafted the bill, I've had a lot of people call me and talk to me about their problems and how marijuana is the only thing that really gives them relief," Fraise said.

Bolkcom introduced medical-marijuana legislation last legislative session, but the bill failed to make it out of committee.

In recent years, some polls have shown growing support for legalizing marijuana at a national and statewide level. A Gallup Poll released in October 2011 showed Americans supported legalizing the substance outnumbered those who don't. A 2010 Hawkeye Poll found 62 percent of Iowans favored legalizing medical marijuana.

But marijuana still faces hurdles in Iowa.

For instance, Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, says laws in the 16 current medical marijuana states are too lax. To prove his point, Baudler said he illegally obtained a medical marijuana prescription in California for nonexistent hemorrhoids.

"I couldn't think of anything stupider than hemorrhoids," he said. "If I could, I would have said that.
"If people believe they need marijuana for their pain or illness, go to California or Colorado. Keep it out of this state."

Fraise still has several weeks to decide whether to file the bill. He said that while he has some supporters, such as Bolkcom, in the Senate, House members' general opposition to the measure would make filing the bill a symbolic gesture at best.

One House Republican said he is open to conversation.

"I think this is a conversation we should have," said Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia. "I don't think it will come to the floor for consideration. Doctors should be able to prescribe medicine they think will be effective."

Viktor Crnkovic, the president of the Iowa branch of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said Fraise's action was "a first step toward a more compassionate and rational policy."

The University of Iowa senior wrote in an email he was glad to see the potential of bipartisan cooperation on medical-marijuana policy.

"For far too long, government officials on both sides of the aisle have blocked reasonable progress out of fear and political maneuvering," Crnkovic said.


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