Editorial: Legalize medical marijuana


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The United States has had a long and storied history with drug use and abuse. From the Prohibition to the War on Drugs, policymakers have sought to ban potentially harmful substances for some time now, with questionable results.

But sentiment seems to be changing regarding the medicinal benefits of an oft-vilified drug: marijuana.

With legalization efforts in bloom all over the country, and 20 states plus Washington, D.C., allowing medical marijuana, many recognize cannabis’ potential to treat painful conditions without the sometimes-debilitating side effects of powerful prescription drugs.

One of those proponents is Iowa-born Steven Jenison, a graduate of the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine who was one of the leaders of New Mexico’s medical-marijuana program as its first medical director and chairman of its advisory board. Jenison spoke at the Iowa City Public Library Tuesday night to explain why medical marijuana makes sense for Iowa.

At the forum, Jenison said it isn’t right to punish those seeking self-medication with cannabis.

“We have to respect that we don’t have all the answers, and if there are things people do that bring them relief, then we shouldn’t arrest and prosecute them.”

We believe that Jenison is correct. It’s time for Iowa to legalize medical marijuana for the potential health benefits and as the first step toward a broader legalization.

The event was backed by Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City. Bolkcom has advocated for medical marijuana in the Legislature for nearly 15 years, and he has another bill lined up in 2014. The bill would remove the state’s current restrictions on medical pot as well as establish a program to allow patients legal access for chronic medical conditions.

The science certainly backs up Jenison and Bolkcom. In 2010, the Iowa Pharmacy Board voted unanimously to recommend medical marijuana based on six months of research and testimony. The board favored a change in the classification of the drug, from Schedule 1, with no accepted medical applications and a high potential for abuse, to Schedule II, acknowledging the properties for treatment.

New research has shown compounds in marijuana may even have anti-cancer applications.

In October, a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that CBD, one of 85 cannabanoids found in the cannabis plant, is a “a non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid that appears to be devoid of side effects, our results support its exploitation as an effective anti-cancer drug in the management of gliomas.”

The National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, has also asserted the medical potential of CBD, citing its anti-tumor, appetite stimulation, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic (pain-treating) effects.

But despite modern-day agreement among influential researchers, the mindset of some public officials seems to be depressingly 20th-century. Gov. Terry Branstead has promised to veto any medical-marijuana bill that comes across his desk, and Iowa’s marijuana laws remain among the harshest in the country.

It seems today that opposition to the use of medical marijuana is based more on Reagan-era “research” that has since been discredited by these modern reports. To put it simply, the claim that cannabis is a drug with no medical applications is no longer tenable. The work from knowledgeable academics and doctors, as well as successful medical marijuana programs in nearly half of U.S. states, shows us that it’s time to make a change in Iowa’s marijuana policies.

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