November 27, 2015

Omaha Tribe explores growing marijuana in western Iowa

MarijuanaMembers of the Omaha Tribe are moving ahead with a feasibility study on a proposed marijuana-growing operation in western Iowa that would provide pot for medical, industrial and recreational uses.

Tribal members have voted on three referendums now giving the Tribal Council the authority to legalize marijuana on the reservation in northeast Nebraska.

Chairman Vernon Miller says input from tribal members was vital. “We needed to really gauge the opinions of the Omaha Tribal members,” Miller says. “We didn’t want to take action without their approval and their opinion. They are pretty controversial issues. We posed those questions to the people and they voted on all three and supported all three.”

Miller says the Tribal Council will take the time to research what’s viable. “Recreational is the most controversial from a legal standpoint so we really need to weigh what’s going to be most feasible at this time…dealing with law enforcement agencies as well as U.S. Attorneys from both Nebraska and Iowa,” Miller says. “That’s something we’re really going to have to weigh after the feasibility study is done, what’s going to be something that we can really effectively do here.”

Miller says generating cash for the tribal community is the biggest priority. “Is it something that’s going to require the least amount of investment but that’s going to provide the biggest ROI, return on investment,” Miller says. “That’s the only reason we’re really pursuing the profit aspect of it, to generate some revenue. My community has a 69% unemployment rate. We have no jobs. Being a sovereign nation, we’re going to take that sovereignty and provide for ourselves.”

Miller says the tribe will work to ensure that any plan would not violate federal or state laws. The proposal would allow for the creation of the crop on tribal land in western Iowa’s Monona County. For more than 20 years, the tribe has operated a casino there, near Onawa, with Las Vegas-style gambling.

(Reporting by Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton)


Iowans cannot buy medical marijuana in new Illinois dispensaries

Gov. Terry Branstad

Governor Terry Branstad.

Medical marijuana sales started Monday in the State of Illinois. Iowa law only allows possession of cannabis oil for the treatment of chronic epilepsy, which primarily afflicts children, but the oil is not sold in Iowa.

This spring Governor Terry Branstad suggested Iowans with a state-issued card allowing possession of cannabis oil might be able to go to Illinois to buy it. But Branstad’s administration has not made progress on that idea.

“I don’t know that there’s been anything done on that yet,” Branstad told reporters Monday.

Current Illinois law only lets Illinois residents buy medical marijuana products from dispensaries in that state. Medical marijuana sales began in Minnesota July 1st, but only Minnesota residents can buy it there as well. Iowa parents caring for children with intractible epilepsy say buying cannabis oil elsewhere is difficult, if not impossible, so the Iowa law that decriminalizing possession of cannabis oil needs to be changed. Branstad said he has sympathy for those parents, but is concerned about what’s going on with recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington state.

“We’re continuing to look at that very carefully,” Branstad said. “Certainly we have empathy for those people with epilepsy and want to make sure they are able to get it, but that only those people that have epilepsy are the only ones that are able to get it and those that have the authorization from their physicians.”

Medical marijuana dispensaries opened in Chicago and four other Illinois cities Monday after “cultivation centers” got the go-ahead to start shipping marijuana to retailers last week. In December, a medical marijuana dispensary is scheduled to open in Milan, Illinois — which is in the Quad Cities area.

Federal money will help treat heroin, prescription drug addiction in Iowa

Health-Dept-logoThe Iowa Department of Public Health plans to give out $3 million in federal funding to help provide more treatment for those with addictions to prescription drugs and heroin.

The department’s Monica Wilke Brown says those who’re addicted will be treated with a couple of types of medication. “There’s been a limited level of treatment options for people who wanted to use medications. The research has gotten very well developed over the last for some people in some cases,” Brown says.

She says the medications that treat the addiction work in a couple of ways. “Some work in the brain to reduce the cravings that people have for the drug,” Brown explains. “And others make it less pleasurable for people to use the drugs.”

The grant money will go to substance abuse providers who have medical professionals on their staff who can monitor and use of the medication to help the patients. Brown says that’s important because of the differences in how people react to treatment. “One person might have success with methadone and another person might have success with maltrexone. Just like individuals are different, they respond differently to different medications,” Brown says.

Brown says the number of people admitted for the treatment for addiction for the pain-killing drugs known as opioids has gone up rapidly. “It’s increased 152 percent just from 2007 to 2012. And one of the things that is of a particular concern with opioid drugs — whether they are prescription drugs or heroin — the risk of overdose is great, and people can die from overdose,” Brown says. Thirty-three Iowans died from opioid overdose deaths last year.

“As people get more and more pain medications — usually legitimately after a surgery or an injury of some sort — then some people end up addicted and with a disorder from using that opioid. We’ve seen that increase here in Iowa, just as we have seen across the country,” according to Brown. Nineteen people died in Iowa last year from heroin overdoses.

She says there will be treatment services available across the state. You can Google “Iowa Drug Treatment” or look on the website to find a treatment provider. “People can also reach out to their physician and ask for a referral for specialized services, because substance abuse treatment is really medical care for a chronic condition,” Brown says. One million dollars of the money from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will be distributed each year for a three-year period.



O’Malley, on recreational marijuana everywhere: ‘I’m not there yet’

Martin O'Malley (file photo)

Martin O’Malley (file photo)

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley says it’s too soon to say whether it should be legal in the U.S. to sell, buy and use marijuana for recreational purposes.

“I’m not there yet. I could get there,” O’Malley says. “I don’t think we’ve had enough time with Colorado and Washington State.”

On Wednesday, another presidential candidate proposed taking marijuana off the federal list of illegal drugs and Bernie Sanders says that would let all states regulate marijuana as they do alcohol and tobacco. When O’Malley was governor of Maryland, he signed a law in 2013 that will let marijuana be prescribed as medicine, but officials are still struggling to write the rules for the program.

“I also decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana,” O’Malley says.

O’Malley made his comments today during a meeting with The Des Moines Register’s editorial board. Hillary Clinton, the other candidate in the Democratic presidential race, has said policymakers should wait to see what happens in Colorado and Washington State before taking any action at the federal level.

In addition to O’Malley, two Republican presidential candidates — Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum — are campaigning in Iowa today. Early this morning, Santorum announced he has added five more staff members to his Iowa campaign team.

Woman who was an advocate for medical marijuana dies

Lori Tassin

Lori Tassin

One of the cancer patients who joined the lobbying effort to encourage Iowa lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana has died. Lori Tassin of Des Moines spoke in June during a statehouse news conference.

“Almost five years ago I was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer,” Tassin said. “Last summer, after the cancer had metasticized to the brain, we did research on cannabis oil as another treatment option.” Tassin told lawmakers the prescription medications she took had far more harmful side effects than medical marijuana and cannabis oil could help with her nausea and lack of appetite.

Tassin was “outraged” when House Republicans passed a bill to legalize fireworks, but refused to take up a bill to legalize the medical use of marijuana for treatment of conditions like hers.

“This shows me that the sick and suffering in Iowa mean nothing to some lawmakers,” Tassin said. “…Please do your job and listen to our sick Iowans.” Tassin was lobbying for a specific bill that would have legalized marijuana as treatment for medical conditions that cause seizures, persistent pain, nausea and other chronic ailments.

“Please be our heroes and legalize medicinal cannabis,” she said in June. “This bill can help so many sick Iowans.” The 2015 legislature ended in early June without passing the bill.

Tassin died Friday. She was 44. Her funeral is scheduled for Wednesday morning in Des Moines. She did not smoke and suspected high levels of radon in her home were the cause of her lung cancer. She is survived by a husband and four children.


Heroin showing up more and more in Iowa

Crime Scene TapeHeroin addiction is a very dangerous, growing problem in Iowa, according to a federal prosecutor for the state’s northern judicial district.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Chatham prosecutes drug crimes, including dozens of heroin cases, the numbers of which have grown as users move from prescription meds to heroin.

Chatham says the heroin on Iowa’s streets is getting more and more potent. Chatham says, “We had a DEA resident agent-in-charge who came from down close to the border who was shocked when he started seeing us having 30% pure heroin in Iowa.” Speaking before the state’s Drug Policy Advisory Council in Des Moines on Thursday, Chatham says an especially powerful variant of heroin known as fentanyl started showing up in Cedar Rapids earlier this year.

“During that same time period, there were over 40 overdose-related calls for service, just in the first three months of 2015, just in this year,” Chatham says. “That’s an incredible number.” Chatham says dealers are meeting growing demand with the purer product.

The Cedar Rapids Police Department has created a new position of heroin coordinator. A Des Moines police officer says heroin cases used to be rare and now they happen weekly. Chatham says bed space for critical detox is scarce and he adds, there’s a waiting list for a heroin opiate summit at the University of Iowa College of Public Health next month.

Thanks to Joyce Russell, Iowa Public Radio


Storm Lake men arrested in Utah on drug charges

Police-lightsThree Storm Lake residents face drug and weapon charges after they were stopped by the Utah Highway Patrol.

Utah officials say 49-year-old Abel Medina Rios, his 28-year-old daughter Raquel and 26-year-old son, Abel, are suspected of drug activity. Troopers seized about 55 pounds of marijuana and a loaded 32-caliber handgun from their vehicle.

Storm Lake police were contacted and searches were made at a Storm Lake residence and two businesses, where police seized two firearms along with quantities of marijuana, crystal meth, drug packaging materials, cell phones, and $2,600 cash.

The investigation is ongoing in both Iowa and Utah with possible charges to include felony possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm by restricted persons. The three  remain in jail in Utah.

(Reporting by Joel Hermann, KAYL, Storm Lake)