Iowa Board Makes Next Move Toward Medical Marijuana

People in favor of medical marijuana in Iowa said they hit the lottery on Wednesday.

Carl Olsen "I can't tell you how far it's going to go, but it's a huge plus for all those people"

DES MOINES, IowaThe Iowa Pharmacy Board voted to file legislation to classify marijuana as a schedule 2 drug from a schedule 1 drug. The change would recognize marijuana’s medical value and moves it out of a class of drugs where it’s considered to be dangerous.”I think it positions the board toward the future,” said board member Susan Fry.

“It’s always been adjustable and today we saw the adjustment,” said Carl Olsen of Iowans for Medial Marijuana.

The board’s vote does not legalize medical marijuana. That would still require action by the Iowa Legislature.

The whole argument, this whole time has been, ‘well we can’t do anything because that medical experts don’t support it,’ but now they do. So to me it’s the whole deal — it’s done, but we’ll see,” said Olsen. “To me, the biggest impediment was to get the scientific experts like the Board of Pharmacy to look at the science and give us an honest assessment. To me, that’s a really big deal.”

There is no word yet if or when this legislation would be brought before Iowa lawmakers.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal said the Senate would look at the proposal, but he said it has not come up at all during talks with Republicans since the election.

Olsen said he’s very happy with the progress on the issue so far.”The momentum is just there,” he said. “I can’t tell you how far it’s going to go, but it’s a huge plus for all those people.”

Recommended read: Hot Potato, Pot Potato: Iowa Legislature’s Dilemma

Is Medical Marijuana Already Legal In Iowa?

It’s interesting that the law pretty much already allows it, and I don’t think too many people realize that…”

Source Within weeks, a group of Iowa lawmakers will meet to discuss interest in legalizing medicinal marijuana in the state and hash out how it could be handled.

After getting a heavy dose of guidance from doctors and pharmacists, lawmakers should decide by the end of the year whether to push for the concept in the next legislative session.

“This is something that would be science-based and it would be bipartisan in origin and around the health of Iowa patients,” said Iowa House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

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Transcripts from the Iowa Medical Marijuana Hearings

Overwhelming evidence from the 4 hearings of the Iowa Pharmacy Board

Iowa Board of Pharmacy – Medical Marijuana Hearing – Council Bluffs

Iowa Board of Pharmacy – Medical Marijuana Hearing – Iowa City

Iowa Board of Pharmacy – Medical Marijuana Hearing – Mason City

Iowa Board of Pharmacy – Medical Marijuana Hearing – Des Moines


Why Iowa could be a game changer in the nationwide fight for medical marijuana

by Bryan Cohen from

There was a whiff of hypocrisy inside Conference Room A at Harrah’s Casino in Council Bluffs, where the Iowa Board of Pharmacy held its last medical marijuana hearing. While there have been no deaths and few, if any, serious addictions linked directly to use of marijuana, the board held its public meeting in a building filled with cigarette smoke, drinking, and gambling — all highly addictive, potentially fatal and absolutely legal.

While Iowa is a latecomer in the fight for medical marijuana, users and advocates come fully loaded with experiences, good and bad. Carl Olsen of Des Moines is one of those people who had good reason to testify at the Nov. 4 hearing: He was responsible for it.

In 1978 Olsen was arrested in Iowa for possession of marijuana. A member of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, Olsen said he was using marijuana for religious purposes. The church gained notoriety in the 1970s when members at a Miami compound repeatedly staved off arrests and investigations despite their open use of marijuana and importation of the plant from other countries. Church members maintain ganja is a religious sacrament — an argument that was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court.

Olsen said he never considered going to the IBP to seek justice until 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. The IBP has a statutory obligation to make periodic recommendations on the rescheduling of drugs in the state.

“At the time I didn’t see the Iowa Board of Pharmacy as the source of my problems, but they really are,” he said. “The courts won’t overturn these laws, but the IBP could (recommend it).”

In 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act. It’s the primary source for classifying drugs based on toxicity and addictive qualities and sets rules for production, possession, use, and penalties. Substances are divided into five Schedules, with Schedule I representing the most harmful drugs such as heroin, LSD and methamphetamines. Since 1970, marijuana has been listed among these drugs, as a substance with the highest potential for abuse and no medical benefits. Soon after the CSA passed, many states adopted nearly identical versions. The Iowa controlled substances act, which mimics the federal version, is reviewed annually by the IBP.

Olsen first petitioned the IBP in May 2008 when he discovered marijuana was listed as both a Schedule I and Schedule II drug in Iowa. The only difference between the two is Schedule I drugs lack “accepted medical use in the United States.” Since 13 states had legalized medical marijuana, Olsen reasoned there was an accepted medical use in the U.S., negating Iowa’s Schedule I classification.

The IBP said Olsen’s request was based on a legal question (the wording of what constitutes Schedule I) and that there was not enough medical evidence to warrant a recommendation to reschedule. Olsen took the issue to court, and despite a ruling that the board must answer Olsen’s questions, he never got a satisfactory answer.

However, Olsen’s petition did spark IBP’s recent medical marijuana hearings, according to board members. Olsen said it was about time.

“The fact that 13 states have legalized medical marijuana use and the IBP hadn’t even looked at it, it made them look stupid,” he said. “But I think they did a good job and I think their heart was in it.”

The IBP’s series of four public hearings across the state, meant to gauge the risks and benefits of medical marijuana, drew over 40 hours of testimony and stacks of materials overwhelmingly in support of patient’s rights. Board members told The Reader it’s unusual to hold public hearings on drug rescheduling; most rescheduling is done automatically to match recommendations from the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Susan Fry, one of two pharmacy board members at the Bluffs hearing, said the board had no preconceived views on medical marijuana going into the investigation.

“We’re basically starting at square one,” she said. “We want to hear from both sides, from all sides. We’re just here to listen.”

“It’s premature to say how medical marijuana would be administered” if the legislature were to reschedule the drug, Fry said. The board is expected to make a recommendation to the state Legislature by January. Fry said the recommendation would be limited to whether marijuana should continue to be a Schedule I drug in Iowa; anything beyond that recommendation would be considered comment.

Some recent movement at the national level may have given the board a few nods in support of rescheduling. Earlier this month the American Medical Association, the nations largest organizations of doctors, urged the federal government to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II to allow for more testing. The AMA had a long-standing position against rescheduling marijuana.

Last month the U.S. Department of Justice recommended federal prosecutors stop going after medical marijuana patients and dispensaries that were complying with state laws. After a flurry of stories and rumors that suggested the move heralded a major shift in marijuana law, President Obama’s drug policy tzar, Gil Kerlikowske, said legalization was absolutely off the table and that the administration still did not support state referendums allowing the use of medical marijuana.

“Regarding state ballot initiatives concerning medical marijuana, I believe that medical questions are best decided not by popular vote, but by science,” Kerlikowske said. But medical marijuana advocates say that position only reinforces the IBP’s efforts to consider rescheduling and going through the legislature, as opposed to a state referendum.

“It’s an odd, slow, but possibly sure way to move the body politic to accept this, where other states have really struggled,” said Allen St. Pierre, spokesperson for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Out of this process, law enforcement officials will be so much more willing to comply with the law.”

Iowa is often seen as a bellwether state in U.S. politics; legalization of medical marijuana could be politically groundbreaking. An IBP recommendation followed by legislative rescheduling would also skirt many of the political and legal hurdles states like California have faced. Instead of dealing with claims that out-of-state interests rammed a referendum through Iowa, the current procedure would pair a respected state pharmaceutical board decision with the normal lawmaking process.

That is, of course, somewhat wishful thinking for marijuana advocates. Most state legislators who were questioned say that movement on the issue is unlikely. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is also an outspoken foe of medical marijuana. He sharply criticized the Obama Administration for its hands-off policy on state sanctioned medical marijuana.

In the meantime, Iowa remains a “zero-tolerance” state on marijuana possession and continues to push patients like Patterson to go elsewhere. A former Iowa resident who now lives in California, Patterson testified at the Bluffs hearing. She suffers from cerebral palsy which has caused her to speak with a severe stutter; a stutter Patterson says is drastically reduced by only a few drags of marijuana.

“I have been on many prescription medications, those did not assist me in controlling my stutter nearly as effectively as cannabis,” she said at the hearing. “Nobody deserves to lose custody over their children because of the medication they use. Nobody deserves to feel like a criminal.”

To see “before and after” video of Jacqueline, check out the documentary In Pot We Trust.

[Editor’s note: Here is a clip from In Pot We Trust featuring Jacqueline]

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Address to the Iowa Board of Pharmacy

This is a copy of the final presentation at the Iowa Pharmacy Board Medical Marijuana Hearings November 4, 2009


“To me, asking the DEA to rule on marijuana is like asking the fox to guard the hen house.”


I want to thank you for holding this hearing because it strikes me as a very reasonable approach to the medical marijuana problem.  I’m sure you’re aware of the process by which the federal scheduling of marijuana was challenged in the 1980s by a group of activists.  The activists will forever quote the administrative law judge’s statement regarding marijuana at the conclusion of those hearings.  No doubt you’ve heard it several times by now and have many copies in the paperwork that has been submitted to you.   The interesting thing to me, however, is the difference between that process and this one—the difference being who is being given jurisdiction to make a recommendation regarding marijuana.

In the federal hearings it was the Drug Enforcement Agency, the DEA, who made the decision.  The DEA is an elite group of drug police.

To me, asking the DEA to rule on marijuana is like asking the fox to guard the hen house.  The fox has a professional interest in eating—or arresting—the hens, not helping them deal with physical ailments.  The hens don’t typically go to the fox and ask for medical advice.  The fox is not a veterinarian.  So it is no surprise that the DEA ignored both the carefully presented evidence and the strong recommendation of their administrative law judge.  They kept marijuana scheduled as a dangerous drug with no potential medical value, and relegated it to the same category as heroin and LSD.

So it’s really nice to see marijuana’s potential medical value being considered by the Iowa Board of Pharmacy, not the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation.  I think it’s a testament to some good old level-headed thinking by Iowans to put pharmacists in charge of drug recommendations instead of police.  Police are functional experts at maintaining public order and safety, not biochemistry and medicinal matters.  It seems to me that the police should be following your guidance, not vice-versa, but at the federal level it hasn’t worked out that way.

I voted for Proposition 215 in California, the nation’s first medical marijuana law.  I did not, however, work on medical marijuana defenses, although I consulted with several of the leading proponents of medical marijuana.  I also have several personal friends who have medical marijuana recommendations from their doctors.  I do not have such a recommendation, nor have I ever sought one.

I brought some photographs from the website of one of the leading medical marijuana dispensaries, the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California.   I’ve never been to this establishment since it requires a medical recommendation to get in.

The photos are a good representation of what the medical marijuana movement can become if it is legal.  I am also including a two-page printout with text and photos describing Harborside’s laboratory analysis project.  It seems to me that this is the minimal standard that all marijuana dispensaries should aspire to.  Obviously, this level of professionalism was impossible prior to laws allowing enough freedom for it to develop.

With the help of committed activists, police, and other officials dedicated to enforcing the law, California has slowly worked out many of the kinks following the 1996 passage of its medical marijuana law.   The full text of California’s Proposition 215 has only 359 words.  It has often been criticized for being too loosely worded—which means not giving enough guidance.

The full text of the proposed law currently submitted to the Iowa Senate has 10,649 words and ran to 26 single-spaced pages when I printed it.   The problems the California law didn’t solve have been discovered and dealt with in advance by the proposed Iowa statute.

For many years I’ve heard various estimates of the value of illegal marijuana crops.  These estimates come from both police and marijuana legalization advocates and even in some instances from county agricultural agents.  Frequently the estimates rank marijuana at or near being the highest dollar agricultural crop in the nation.  Estimates are difficult to make, but in any case, the value is certainly very high.   All of that money is floating around out there unseen, unregulated, and untaxed.  If you look around at Iowa farms and consider that even a fraction of the value of all the farm products and services we can see—all the tractors, silos, trucks, farms, houses and bank accounts, is also floating around out there in a hidden economy of marijuana assets—maybe not in Iowa, but somewhere in the country—then you get some idea of just how big the marijuana business is.

No doubt you know that marijuana, or cannabis sativa, was an accepted drug in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia until a wave of scare stories led it to be hastily banned by Congress in 1937.  This was over the objection of the American Medical Association.  Now, except for the recent creation of legal medical marijuana markets, all of the vast underground marijuana economy is operating without any reasonable controls or legal safeguards.  Since the 1960s marijuana use has burgeoned while the drug has remained completely illegal.  Nothing suggests that criminal penalties for all marijuana users will stop this market.

Certainly it has also been established that many people, rightly or wrongly, will persist in using marijuana for medical benefits they believe it confers, regardless of the law.  We can either continue considering these people criminals or exercise the option to bring them under legal control.  They can obey the law and still have their marijuana, but the law can specify how many of them get it, what they get it for, how the drug is produced,  who produces it, who sells it, how much it is taxed, when it is sold, where it is sold, how pure it is, et cetera, et cetera.

It’s rather ironic, don’t you think, that marijuana advocates are coming to you and literally begging to be placed under legal regulation, literally begging to give the state power over their lives.  It seems like everyone else in the world is trying to get government out of their hair, always complaining about government regulation and taxes and Big Brother and such, but here we have a group of people who are begging for government regulation yet the only regulation the government wants to give them is jail, at great expense to the taxpayer while a huge black market thrives wholly untaxed..  Jail hasn’t worked.  Let’s try finding a middle ground between jail and no law whatsoever.  Let’s move forward not just to allow doctors to recommend it, but to make it possible for doctors and pharmacists at the University of Iowa, and scientists at other schools, to study the uses and benefits.  Surely tax money from the sale of medical marijuana could be earmarked for such purposes, possibly even producing patents on new medicines extracted or synthesized from the variety of cannabinoids in the plant.  Let’s bring cannabis back in to the pharmacopoeia where it was a medicine for many generations.