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Iowa legislators and community members discuss legalizing medicinal marijuana

BY JAKE McCULLEY | NOVEMBER 20, 2013 5:00 AM

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Dr. Steve Jenison, the first director of New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program, met with a diverse crowd of medical marijuana supporters on Tuesday. People shared stories of how cannabis has eased their medical conditions, from epilepsy to PTSD, even when all other drugs had failed.

“People in New Mexico aren’t worried about increased cannabis use,” Jenison said. “They’re more interested in the idea that medical cannabis might reduce alcohol and opiate abuse.”

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, is modeling new medical-marijuana legislation on New Mexico’s successful program. That program has helped more than 10,000 patients since 2007, Jenison said.

“With 20 different programs in different states, we can start to figure out which is best,” Bolkcom said. “I think New Mexico has a good one. They have a rigorous process to get approved for medical marijuana.”

This process, Jenison said, begins when patients fill out a medical certification form with their physicians. The physicians must attest that the patients have a debilitating qualifying condition and that they have pursued other treatments that have failed. Then the form is sent to the director of the Medical Marijuana Program, which can either approve the application, reject it, or request more information

Maria la France spoke to the audience about her son Quincy, who is severely epileptic. She said she has tried more than 20 drugs to stop his constant seizures, including Valium, narcotics, and barbiturates, but none had worked.

When she found out that cannabis is a powerful anti-epileptic, she was “outraged.”

“In some states, my son could have been cured 10 years ago, but I still can’t legally help him in our state,” she said.

Bolkcom said the careful screening process used in New Mexico could help parents such as la France. It might also appeal to some Iowa legislators, he said, many of whom are concerned that medical marijuana would end up on the black market.

Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, said he would not approve any step towards marijuana legalization.

“Other states that have taken the steps of approving medical marijuana can’t keep drugs from the black market,” Johnson said. “We can’t control it effectively enough to keep it out of the hands of young people.”

Another problem Johnson pointed out is marijuana is still a Schedule I drug — which has the highest legal repercussions — according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“It’s still a question of if the federal government would bring the hammer down [on states that have legalized marijuana use],” Johnson said.

Bolkcom said while there are no guarantees, the Obama administration seems to be taking a hands-off approach.

“Now that there are 20 states that have at least partially legalized it, I think the federal government has backed off,” he said.

One thing Johnson and Bolkcom agreed on is the bill won’t be passed anytime soon.

“I think we’re still a few years out,” Bolkcom said. “The most important thing is to educate people and educate legislators. They listen to their constituents, but they haven’t heard enough stories about medical marijuana yet.”


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