Editorial — On medical marijuana, legislators running out of excuses
Thursday, Georgia legalized medical marijuana, making it the 24th state in the United States to do so. Nine other states have pending legislation to do so, including Iowa. A medical marijuana bill here passed its first major test in the Senate on a 26-19 vote that will send it to the House.
Unfortunately, that’s likely to be the bill’s final stop.
Despite a recent Quinnipiac University Poll that shows 87 percent of Iowans support the use of marijuana for medical purposes, Republican House leaders such as Speaker Kraig Paulsen are ready to let the medical-marijuana bill go up in smoke.
“His position on medical marijuana has not changed,” Josie Albrecht, a Paulsen spokeswoman, said in an interview with The Daily Iowan. “He doesn’t believe the General Assembly will do anything with medical marijuana this year.”
For many in the House, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Legislators have made these kinds of comments before, avoiding taking a stance on the merits of the bill itself by contending that it doesn’t have a chance.
It’s this kind of head-in-the-sand approach that threatens to leave Iowans suffering from cancer, Crohn’s disease, posttraumatic stress disorder, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, and other severe, chronic pain without a possible treatment option that more than 60 health organizations support.
The American Nurses Association, New England Journal of Medicine, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Association for Public Health Policy, and a multitude of other trusted names all have thrown their support behind providing access to medical marijuana.
It’s not hard to see why. Unlike opiate-based prescription painkillers, marijuana doesn’t cause overdoses. Every day, 44 people in the United States die from an overdose of prescription painkillers. They also have a high potential for addiction, with more than 2 million Americans estimated to have abused the drugs in 2013. For those with severe pain or diseases such as epilepsy, cannabis can relieve symptoms without running the risk of physical addiction.
Some Iowa leaders may not want to run afoul of the federal government in legalizing a drug for medical use that is still classified as a Schedule I substance (containing no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse), despite the fact that 24 states have already done so and the classification itself is an archaic relic of the war on drugs.
There’s also the fact that President Obama signed a spending bill in 2014 that prevents the Department of Justice from using its funds to go after states that have legalized medical marijuana.
But apparently, that’s not the only reason to hold off. Jimmy Centers, a spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad, said the governor also would oppose a medical-marijuana bill “because of the unintended consequences states like Colorado and California have seen as they adopt … decriminalization of marijuana.”
Those unintended consequences for Colorado include a $76 million haul in taxes going toward public schools, a 10.1 percent decrease in overall crime in 2014, and more than $12 million in savings because of reduced criminal costs.
At this point, we can only hope that the Iowa House sees which way the wind is blowing and votes accordingly to the sentiment of 87 percent of the state. Recalcitrance is not an attractive leadership quality.
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