Pharmacy Board Unanimously OKs Medical Marijuana Plan
By Tony Leys, published in the Des Moines Register
State regulators took a step toward legalizing medical marijuana Wednesday, but supporters of the idea still face a long journey.
The Iowa Board of Pharmacy voted 6-0 to propose legislation that would reclassify marijuana and make it easier to legalize the drug for medical purposes.
However, if legislators accepted the proposal, they would also have to approve a separate medical-marijuana program. Several state leaders, including Gov.-elect Terry Branstad, have said they oppose such an idea.
Pro-marijuana activist Carl Olsen of Des Moines applauded the board’s vote. “All I know is I just won today,” he said. “But how much did I win? I don’t know.”
The issue is complicated. State law now lists marijuana among Schedule I drugs, such as LSD, which have almost no legal purposes, and among Schedule II drugs, such as narcotic painkillers, many of which may be used for strictly controlled medical treatments.
Under the proposed bill the board approved Wednesday, lawmakers would erase the Schedule I language and simply define marijuana as a Schedule II drug. The bill would also remove a clause in the Iowa Code saying marijuana is a Schedule II drug “when used for medicinal purposes pursuant to rules of the board of pharmacy examiners.”
The second change would remove decades-old language that some legislators said gives the board authority to allow medical marijuana without legislative action. Lloyd Jessen, the agency’s executive director, said the clause is unclear. “We’ve never thought that gave us the authority to do anything,” he said.
Supporters say marijuana can ease symptoms, such as pain and nausea, for patients with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other ailments. Detractors see the medical-marijuana campaign as a front for people who want to get high.
Arizona this month became the 15th state to approve medical uses of marijuana. An Iowa Poll published in The Des Moines Register in February showed 64 percent of Iowans supported allowing patients to use the drug if their doctors approved. The poll found 70 percent opposed legalizing the drug for recreational use.
The pharmacy board unanimously recommended in February that the Legislature clarify the issue by declaring marijuana a Schedule II drug and setting guidelines on how it may be distributed and used.
But the Democratic majority leader in the Iowa House of Representatives later said lawmakers didn’t need to act on the issue, because of the Iowa Code clause suggesting the board could set rules on the issue. Republicans will regain control of the Iowa House in January. Their leaders did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday, but Branstad has firmly said he opposes legalizing marijuana for any use.
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